Commentary: Education commissioner has painted a target on the backs of teachers

November 18, 2021 5:49 am
Exterior of the state Department of Education

The New Hampshire School Administrators Association calls on Gov. Chris Sununu “to denounce the bounties placed on public school educators by an extremist group.” (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Last week, Commissioner Frank Edelblut announced a Department of Education effort to encourage the public to inform on public educators and, hand-in-hand with that announcement, an extremist group offered bounties to those who instigate investigations that may lead to the discipline and possible loss of professional credentials of teachers and administrators across the state.

The New Hampshire School Administrators Association calls on Gov. Chris Sununu to denounce the bounties placed on public school educators by an extremist group fomented by the destructive efforts of Edelblut, whom the governor has twice appointed to be New Hampshire’s commissioner of education. Commissioner Edelblut, instead of working with educators who are struggling to emerge from the challenges of our pandemic, has chosen to paint a target on their backs and asked the public to take aim. If the governor chooses to remain silent, it will be clear that Edelblut has Gov. Sununu’s permission to use the dishonest “critical race theory” to target public school teachers and administrators and to further undermine public education in New Hampshire. 

Critical race theory is an academic concept that has never been taught in any New Hampshire K-12 public school. Through a partisan, backdoor addition to the state budget that was advocated for and supported by Edelblut and approved by the governor, the Legislature created a solution for a problem that does not exist, but may cost a teacher her job. Worse yet, Edelblut has now helped create a bounty system so that anti-public education extremists who weren’t present in the classroom when a subject was taught can now anonymously report the teacher, cost her her license and livelihood, and get financially rewarded for doing so. Joseph McCarthy would be very proud of our education commissioner.  

Commissioner Edelblut has created a website to report complaints, anonymously if you wish, so that teachers and administrators can be easily reported for teaching history, economics, or civics that doesn’t conform to the informant’s personal view of the world. If that were not enough to chill efforts to teach responsibly and ethically about our nation’s history, Edelblut has also indicated he will investigate any such claim as educator misconduct, which will place a teacher’s livelihood in jeopardy. This latest outrage, along with many other efforts the commissioner has undertaken during his tenure, has created a hostile environment for the women and men who devote their professional careers to teaching our children in classrooms across New Hampshire every day.

A group that actively supports the commissioner’s efforts to undermine public education issued a $500 “bounty” for reporting a teacher almost at the same time as the commissioner issued his press release about his informants’ website. In fact, the commissioner didn’t feel it necessary to notify educators or the general public that his website was even contemplated, but the group that issued the bounties somehow knew to be ready to go. 

Our state is at a turning point. Do we allow these attacks to continue to drive good, caring teachers and administrators away from our schools? Do we value our schools as the community assets they are, or are they merely the commissioner’s political punching bags? If we value our schools, and our educators, we must denounce the “bounty” placed on public school teachers in New Hampshire and the policy that got us to this point. We must urge the governor to roll back this approach and work with educators and families to clarify exactly what is going to be considered appropriate teaching regarding our collective history and race relations. We all deserve clarity about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. 

The governor signed this abhorrent law into effect. He appointed this commissioner twice. It is now up to Gov. Sununu to resolve this issue. Until then, educators will work under a cloud of uncertainty that they will be reported to the state, triggering a sham investigation, all without evidence or transparency. That is not what parents want and not what professional educators deserve. Enough is enough.

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Carl M. Ladd
Carl M. Ladd

Carl M. Ladd is executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association.