New Hampshire Teachers Union Sues Over State's 'Prohibition on Teaching Discrimination' Law

AFT-New Hampshire, a teachers union, along with a few educators and parents filed a lawsuit Monday against the state's top education, human rights, and law enforcement officials over the state's "Prohibition on Teaching Discrimination" law.

The lawsuit is against New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut, Commission on Human Rights Chair Christian Kim, and New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella. A senior assistant attorney general said the office would "review the lawsuit and defend the law" while the Education Department and Human Rights Commissions said they do not comment on ongoing lawsuits.

The law, which passed in June, restricts teachers from teaching children that they are inferior, racist, sexist, or oppressive because of their race, gender, or other characteristics. Teachers who violate the law can receive disciplinary action. It allows for teachers to instruct on the "historical existence" of ideas and focuses on bolstering anti-discrimination laws.

An earlier version of the measure was akin to a previous Trump administration order that tried to ban talk of "divisive concepts" in schools.

Those who filed the lawsuit said the law restricts the discussion of systemic racism, speech, the free exchange of ideas, and hurts students.

The teachers union, which represents 3,400 public school teachers and related staff, along with three high school teachers and two parents asked for an enforcement ban and a jury trial in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claimed the measure is "at once unconstitutionally vague in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, chills teacher speech in violation of the First Amendment and conflicts with and compels abridgment of New Hampshire's Constitution and laws, thereby creating further vagueness, fear and uncertainty as to what New Hampshire teachers may teach and as a result hurts New Hampshire's students."

Lawsuit, Discrimination Law, Teaching, School
The “Prohibition on Teaching Discrimination” law, which passed in June, restricts teacher from teaching children that they are inferior, racist, sexist, or oppressive because of their race, gender, or other characteristics. In this photo, U.S. First Lady Jill Biden speaks with students in Becky Taylors classroom as she visits the Christa McAuliffe School in Concord, New Hampshire, on March 17, 2021. Susan Walsh/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

AFT-New Hampshire President Deb Howes said teachers work in fear of being "targeted without evidence by people with a political agenda."

"Educators are terrified of losing their teaching license over simply trying to teach," Howes said.

She said one reason the lawsuit was filed was in response to a conservative group's offer to pay $500 to the first person who "catches" a teacher violating the law after the Education Department set up a website to collect complaints against teachers. The conservative organization told supporters in a tweet to designate online donations as "CRT Bounty's," referring to critical race theory.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu had denounced the tweet.

AFT-New Hampshire believes the state is one of eight Republican-led states that have passed laws aimed at censoring discussions around race and gender in classrooms, prompted by concern over critical race theory.

The lawsuit said the Commission for Human Rights and the attorney general's office have issued guidance to clear up ambiguous language, but even those agencies agree the law is confusing.

Ryan Richman, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who teaches high school world history in Plaistow, said he asks his students to discuss events in the news and their connections with the past.

"Nine times out of 10, they want to discuss stories about oppression and how they've observed or experienced it — the Rohingya genocide, the Uyghur genocide, the Black Lives Matter movement. I shouldn't lose my license for honestly discussing current events in my classroom," Richman said in a statement.

He also questioned how he and his students can discuss the Nazi philosophy that the Aryan race was superior to all others, and the history of human chattel slavery in the American South and its impact on African Americans.

Republican State Sen. Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro said the law prohibits teaching students that they are "inherently superior or inferior to people of another age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, creed, color, marital status, familial status, mental or physical disability, religion, or national origin."

"Clearly any instruction that teaches students they are inferior or superior due to these characteristics is discrimination and it's terribly disappointing that this lawsuit has even been filed," he said in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

New Hampshire, Discrimination Law, Lawsuit, Schools
AFT-New Hampshire, which represents 3,400 public school teachers and related staff, along with three high school teachers and two parents, said the "Prohibition on Teaching Discrimination" law restricts the discussion of systemic racism, speech, the free exchange of ideas, and hurts students. In this photo, Chrissy Gephardt, daughter of U.S. presidential candidate Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-MO), gestures as she speaks to students at Manchester West High School Dec. 4, 2003 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Michael Springer/Getty Images