Public education is under attack in New Hampshire, and the battle is being waged from the top down.

The latest salvo is a new state Department of Education webpage that makes it easier for parents and students to report teachers for alleged discrimination under the state’s so-called “divisive concepts” law, which essentially prohibits the teaching of critical race theory — a target of conservatives who say it engenders a hatred of our nation and makes white students feel bad about themselves.

The N.H. Department of Education created its new online reporting system in response to the state’s Right to Freedom from Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education Law, passed in June and signed by Gov. Chris Sununu. The law prohibits public school educators from teaching that one group is inherently superior or inferior to people of another group or that one group is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive. However, it’s vague enough in interpreting what constitutes such a misstep that teachers may rightfully fear any mention of slavery or institutional racism or sexism would open them to complaints. And the penalties for running afoul of the law include the loss of their teaching certification.

At some point a nation, especially a democratic one, should face up to its shortcomings in an effort to learn from its mistakes on the road to becoming a better nation for all its citizens. Education plays a big part in this. It cannot be inhibited from addressing the truth, however ugly. And this law is intended for just that purpose: to intimidate teachers into whitewashing — if you will — America’s history.

Now, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut has upped the ante, by openly soliciting such complaints. On the state Department of Education’s website, a parent or student who believes a teacher has broken the Freedom from Discrimination law can submit a form, which is then sent to the N.H. Commission for Human Rights for investigation. Since the new law ostensibly falls under that commission’s purview, perhaps it makes sense to direct complaints there. But it’s noteworthy the Education Department doesn’t similarly direct any other types of discrimination complaints to the commission; only those that arise from this particular circumstance.

While teachers should certainly be subject to oversight, this method should send up a red flag.

A better way to deal with complaints against teachers would be to leave them to the local school districts and their board members. A parent or student who has a complaint about a teacher might employ a more considered approach when faced with neighbors, rather than a faceless website.

Even more disquieting is this follow-on tweet from Moms for Liberty NH that the group would offer a monetary reward for parents, teachers, students or school staff who reported teachers.

“We’ve got $500 for the person that first successfully catches a public school teacher breaking this law,” the New Hampshire chapter of the national conservative parents’ organization wrote on Friday.

This smacks of the vigilantism baked into the Texas anti-abortion law, incentivizing parents to file complaints, warranted or not, with the hope one will pan out.

The second-largest teachers union in New Hampshire has called on Edelblut to resign, accusing him of declaring a “war on teachers.” The N.H. School Administrators Association has called on Sununu to fire him. By extension, this is also a war on education in its broadest sense and therefore a war on students, too.

Brian Hawkins, government relations director for the National Education Association New Hampshire, the state’s largest teachers union, said it best in an interview with the Concord Monitor: “I think it underscores the concern that the law’s intent was to chill education about diversity, equity and inclusion and about learning past mistakes so they’re not repeated again, for the benefit of our students and the country.”

This targeting of legitimate curricula is only a part of a larger problem. Teachers here are caught in the middle, but all of public education in New Hampshire has been under attack since Sununu was elected and appointed Edelblut to head the education department. The two have led efforts to draw funding away from traditional public schools in favor of charter schools and, more troubling, private schools — including religious institutions — and home-schooling. Those are effective venues for many children but should not be paid for by taxpayers.

Further, such alternatives aren’t subject to the same rigid standards, rules and laws that can handcuff public schools. That includes the new Right to Freedom from Discrimination law. There’s probably a lesson in that, but odds are, the N.H. Department of Education wouldn’t want it taught.

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