The Bulletin Board

Republican bill would penalize school officials who deny local officials access

By: - March 3, 2022 3:51 pm
The state house as viewed through a stone arch

Supporters of the bill had portrayed it as a means to increase housing stock in towns and cities without large apartment complexes that tend to draw controversy. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)

House Republicans are pressing for a bill that would bar school districts from denying elected school officials access to facilities or documents, and make it a misdemeanor offense for school officials who violate the law. 

House Bill 1072 would prohibit elected members of school boards, budget committees, “or any other elected school district position” from being denied access to “any school facilities, documents, or school events by any superintendent of school, school principal, or faculty member while that person holds office.”

Voting 10-9 along party lines, members of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee recommended the bill be passed, arguing it was necessary to prevent public officials from being punished by school administrators for their politics.

But Democrats and public school representatives say the bill is unnecessary and argue it could lead to elected leaders forcing access to confidential information on students.

The bill includes an exception for an official that has been convicted of or is currently charged with any offense that currently prevents a person from teaching at or working in a New Hampshire school.

School officials who violate the bill by barring an official would face a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $1,200.

For Rep. Ken Weyler, a Kingston Republican and one of the co-sponsors of the bill, the legislation would allow local officials a better glimpse at finances, including details around special education funding.

“We’ve spent $100,000 for this student to be counseled by such and such a person – what are the results?” Weyler said. “Is there a behavioral change? Have they learned to read? Have they learned to write? Show me the progress on this very expensive student that we’ve had for a number of years. I think that’s a legitimate question.” 

But opponents have argued that the bill is vaguely worded and could allow public officials to come onto school grounds during the school day without getting prior approval from school officials. And they say it could create legal headaches for schools trying to comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which protects student records and health information. 

“Could a school board or a budget committee, in the aggregate, get how much money are we spending on special education? Yes,” said Barrett Christina, executive director of the New Hampshire School Boards Association. “Could they get numbers, in the aggregate, of how many paraprofessionals do we have on staff that are providing special education services? Yes. But asking how much this placement costs for this particular kid and how many paraprofessionals and aides for this particular kid, in our opinion, would be touching on the confidentiality aspect that you’re not allowed to breach.” 

The bill will come before the full House later this month.

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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.