July 15, 2024 4:00 am
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Senate Passes Controversial Parental Rights Bill, Sending It to House

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by Ethan DeWitt, New Hampshire Bulletin

The New Hampshire Senate passed a parental rights bill on party lines Thursday, sending to the House legislation that would require schools to disclose changes to a student’s gender identity if a parent asks.

Senate Bill 272, which passed the Republican-led Senate on party lines, would help inform parents of a number of existing rights in their child’s school, including the right to opt their child out of sex education or specific instructional material, the right to inspect a school curriculum, and the right to exempt their child from vaccinations in certain conditions.

It would also create new rights, including allowing parents to request information about efforts by their child to adopt a new nickname or pronoun as part of a gender identity transition. Under the bill, if a parent asked about any nicknames or accommodations made by the school for their child, a teacher would need to answer truthfully, unless there was “clear and convincing” evidence that disclosing the information would risk the parent abusing or neglecting the child.

The bill states that parents may sue the educator for declaratory damages if they believed the educator had violated the law and not given the information.

Over an hour-long debate Thursday, Republican senators argued the bill would allow parents to be more in the loop on the activities of their child at school, and to assist in difficult questions their child might face about their gender identity. But Democrats countered that the bill would require schools to out the gender identity status of children to their parents, and said that that decision should be left to the children.

Sen. Denise Ricciardi, a Bedford Republican, expressed concern over certain school policies around transgender students, citing a letter from concerned educators complaining about “transsexual indoctrination sessions” in schools. 

“If you are gay or transgender, you should be your authentic self,” said Ricciardi, speaking in favor of the bill. “But if you’re young and you’re figuring things out, you shouldn’t be having this discussion in schools, which adds to more confusion in the end. This (bill) is for parents to be involved.” 

And Sen. Ruth Ward argued that the bill would stop transgender students from leading “double lives” where they use one gender identity at school and another at home to their parents. 

“The solution in dealing with sexuality issues for the potential LGBTQ child will be to have the trusted adult (at school) help the child to talk with the parents instead of supporting their dual identity,” she said. 

But Democrats said the bill could put transgender and LGBTQ students at risk if a school district informed a parent against their wishes. 

Sen. Rebecca Perkins Kwoka, a Portsmouth Democrat, said the bill would remove schools as a safe space for LGBTQ children away from their parents. 

“It’s just devastating to think that the safety and ability to determine who you are is taken away from our students,” said Perkins Kwoka, who is gay. “When our teachers are not trusted advisers, they can no longer be another adult in our lives that’s available to us.” 

Sen. Becky Whitley, a Concord Democrat, warned that the bill could violate state privacy and anti-discrimination protections if it became law, arguing that it targeted transgender students. 

“This bill will open the floodgates for litigation,” she said.

The bill, whose lead sponsor is Sen. Sharon Carson, a Londonderry Republican, is co-sponsored by all 13 other Republican senators. All 10 Democratic senators voted against it Thursday.

The bill heads next to the House. 

House Republicans are attempting to pass their own parental rights bill this year that does not require disclosure of gender identity changes to parents. That bill, House Bill 10, is heading to the full House for a vote in the coming weeks.

This story was written by Ethan DeWitt, an education reporter at the New Hampshire Bulletin, where this story first appeared.

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