Recent bill undermines public school authority

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Public schools in the U.S. are offering an increasing amount of parental exemptions for certain coursework. Usually these exemptions are used for sexual education and health issues, but parental objections in the classroom have recently been taken to a new level. Last month, the Republican-dominated New Hampshire legislature passed House Bill 542, which allows parents to issue “an exception to specific course material based on ... [their] determination that the material is objectionable.”

New Hampshire parents now possess complete control to object to any program or assignment that arises.
The bill indicates that school districts can no longer mandate a parent to send his or her child to any school program to which they are “conscientiously opposed.”

In addition, the law does not require parents to give an explanation for the specific curriculum alteration. In essence, parents can now reject course material on a whim, as long as the student graduates with “state graduation requirements.”
The New Hampshire legislation was a clear attempt by the Republican legislature to continue undermining the public school system. As Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson highlighted in the case McCollum v. Board of Education, “If we are to eliminate everything that is objectionable to any [person] or is inconsistent with any of their doctrines, we will leave the public schools in shreds.”

Robert Kunzman, education professor at Indiana University in Bloomington, expressed the over-arching question of balancing parental discretion and public school freedom. Earlier this year, in a report on, he posed the question, “How wide can we make the circle in our public schools in terms of helping families to feel welcomed and feel their beliefs and perspectives are accommodated?” Although parental discretion in common offensive cases is understandable, this new law funnels an excessive amount of power to the parents and tilts the balance almost to the point of educational obsolescence.

The law transforms public school education from a public good into a private (family-owned) mechanism. It is bound to lead to disagreements between parents and administrators on suitable lesson alternatives, and as a result, with every alternative plan, curricula will become increasingly conflicting. It is beneficial for a school to offer accommodations for students, but there need to be clear limits.

The New Hampshire law, biases and all, is beginning a trend of parental domination within the realm of education. Arizona and Georgia state legislatures are proposing similar legislation.

Although some district agreements should be made, the bill completely rejects the district-parent negotiation process and allows parents to object to school instruction in an ongoing state-wide culture war. The law is demeaning, disrespectful, and dangerous to the future of New Hampshire students, and to students across the nation.