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N.H. teacher ‘loyalty’ law could expand to include race debate

Rep. Alicia Lekas' new bill would prohibit public school teachers from “teaching that the United States was founded on racism."

A worker passes public school buses parked at a depot in Manchester, N.H., Monday, April 27, 2020. Charles Krupa/AP Photo


CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A Cold War-era law targeting “teachers’ loyalty” would be updated with today’s hot button issues under a bill heard by a House committee Thursday.

A 1949 law prohibits teachers from advocating communism, but Republican Rep. Alicia Lekas, of Hudson, wants to add Marxism as a second “subversive doctrine.”

Her bill also would prohibit teachers from advocating for “any doctrine or theory promoting a negative account or representation of the founding and history of the United States of America in New Hampshire public schools which does not include the worldwide context of now outdated and discouraged practices,” including “teaching that the United States was founded on racism.”

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Lekas told the House Education Committee that she drafted her bill in haste and is working on amending it, but that her intent is to stop teachers from indoctrinating students. The bill was inspired in part, she said, by conversations with both high school students and adults who believe that slavery “only happened in the United States and we had a war, and it’s done.”

“Clearly that’s not the case,” she said. “Unless we are alert to what has happened in the world and what is happening now, we will not be on the lookout for it.”

The 1949 law also once included teachers to take a loyalty oath, though that was later repealed, said Rep. Keith Ammon, R-New Boston.

“We’re not asking for the oath to be brought back, but we are asking that the statute be updated to reflect current reality,” he said.

New Hampshire and other Republican-led states have recently moved to regulate classroom discussions over concerns about critical race theory, which centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions. Under the state budget passed in June, New Hampshire now bans teachers from instructing children that any individual or group is inferior, racist, sexist or oppressive by virtue of their race, gender or other characteristics.

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That provision is being challenged in court by critics who argue it has had a chilling effect on teachers who fear they will face disciplinary action for fostering open discussion of important topics. Opponents of the new bill called it dangerously vague and said it would have a similar effect.

“I’m frustrated that I’m here today for a bill that is poorly thought through, poorly defined, vague. That would not fly in my classroom,” said high school teacher Jennifer Given, who said she includes slavery in Rome, Egypt and elsewhere in her world history classes.

“This law is oversimplifying complex issues for the sake of chilling teachers’ speech. It has no real effort to try to clarify history,” she said. “What you are attempting to do is silence discussion, whitewash our curriculum and tolerate intolerable views.”

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