The Bulletin Board

Representative moves to repeal state’s ‘divisive concepts’ law

By: - September 17, 2021 1:56 pm
State House dome

The Executive Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday on the state Department of Justice’s request to accept the $5 million in American Rescue Plan funding. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)

The Legislature will again be taking up the debate about critical race theory and discrimination in the upcoming session, after a proposal was filed this week to remove a contentious law regulating how racism is discussed in public classrooms and workplaces.

Rep. Manny Espitia, a Nashua Democrat, filed a request for legislation this week to repeal “the law relative to certain discrimination in public workplaces and education.” Once drafted, the bill Espitia has requested would take aim at the discrimination language that was added to state law last session through a broad-ranging and policy-heavy budget bill.

The law has implications for public school curriculum as well as trainings for government workers, and like legislation introduced in several other states, it has sparked heated debates about critical race theory. Those conversations have been taking place at school board meetings throughout New Hampshire, where students and parents on one side of the issue have spoken in support of diversity programs and curricula, while those on the other side have claimed that the way teachers introduce identity and racism discriminates against white students.

The so-called divisive concepts language originally appeared as House Bill 544, and was later inserted into the budget trailer bill. Espitia said if the language hadn’t been tied to the budget, the outcome may have been different.

“Politicians shouldn’t be telling teachers what to do,” he said, adding that the law currently on the books “doesn’t allow us to really address the issue of racism in our state.”

Espitia has been a vocal advocate of racial diversity in the state, and after he denounced white supremacist graffiti in Nashua, he was targeted by NSC-131, the neo-Nazi group that took responsibility for the graffiti. New Hampshire’s attorney general later said there was insufficient evidence to charge the group with a hate crime and did not pursue charges.

According to a report by NBC News, Republican lawmakers in 22 states had introduced legislation “to limit the teaching of concepts such as racial equity and white privilege.”  And according to the Brookings Institution, eight states passed such legislation, including New Hampshire, Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Iowa, Arizona, and South Carolina.

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s energy and environment reporter. She previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.

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