‘Parental bill of rights’ legislation draws opposition from teachers unions, child advocate

By: - April 5, 2022 4:48 pm
Moira O'Neill

The state’s outgoing director of the Office of the Child Advocate, Moira O’Neill, spoke against the bill on Tuesday. (Screenshot)

The New Hampshire Senate is considering a “parental bill of rights” that would provide a parent “the right to direct the education and care of his or her minor child” and provide access to school records.

But teachers unions, social worker advocates, and the state’s Office of the Child Advocate have objected to the bill, arguing it is too vague, too punitive to teachers, and too heavily weighted toward parents’ interests over children’s interests. 

House Bill 1431 would set out a number of parental rights in statute, including the right to direct a child’s education, the right to access all school records relating to their child, and the right to be notified promptly if an employee suspects a crime has been committed against the child – with exceptions. The latter right would not apply if a partner is suspected of a criminal offense against the child, or if sharing the information would impede a criminal investigation.

The bill would require school districts to adopt policies to inform parents of already existing rights in statute, such as the right to object to classroom instructional materials and find an alternative arrangement; the right to exempt their child from immunizations due to religious beliefs or a physician exemption; and the right to review report cards and graduation requirements.

It would mandate that schools provide a plan to allow parents to review the curriculum and “supplemental educational materials,” to learn about extracurricular activities, and to participate directly in homework, school attendance, and disciplinary matters.

And it would create an automatic class B misdemeanor for teachers, staff, and state officials who violate the law. 

The bill taps into mounting frustrations and pushback by some on the right against public schools, as well as the state’s Division for Children Youth and Families. Supporters say the legislation would establish the supremacy of parental rights over state institutions in most cases and have tied that goal to the country’s founding. 

“We need a parents’ bill of rights to make clear the will of the people of this state: that parents have certain unalienable rights with respect to the care and upbringing of their minor children,” said Rep. Paul Terry, an Alton Republican. 

But teachers unions, such as the American Federation of Teachers of New Hampshire and the National Education Association of New Hampshire, have argued the bill would create “chaos” for schools and encourage litigation and antagonistic behavior. 

The state’s outgoing director of the Office of the Child Advocate, Moira O’Neill, also spoke against the bill, which she said would promote the rights of parents at the expense of children.

“Parents already have strongly established rights in New Hampshire,” O’Neill said. “Being a parent, however, is a privilege. It’s a gift, and it’s a great responsibility. This chapter would pit the rights of parents against that of children.” 

The bill, which passed the House nearly along party lines, will receive a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee in the coming weeks.

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel. Email: [email protected]