Advocates for public education in New Hampshire are asking state lawmakers to repeal what’s known as the “divisive concepts” law, which educators say undermines their training and ability to teach about race or gender.
The law restricts educators from teaching that one class of people is inherently racist or oppressive, and it is enforced by citizens who can report teachers for potential violations, possibly costing them their jobs.
Sarah Robinson, education justice campaign director for the group Granite State Progress, said the law has had a chilling effect in classrooms across the state.
“It’s just, because there’s no way of knowing if what you’re talking about applies to the law or not,” said Robinson, “folks will just not talk about it.”
Supporters of the law say it stops teachers from creating lessons that pit one race or gender against another, but educators say the law is so vague that it prevents rational classroom discussions about American history and the challenges the country faces today.
Despite overwhelming public opposition to the “divisive concepts” law in 2021, including from some of New Hampshire’s largest employers, the measure was inserted into a budget trailer bill and signed by Gov. Chris Sununu.
A recent public hearing on efforts to repeal it drew big crowds, including those opposed to restricting public employees’ ability to promote diversity or unconscious bias training.
Michelle Veasey, executive director of New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility, said companies find great value in having inclusive workplaces.
“We feel like it’s important to develop a culture in which everyone can share ideas, because then we come up with the most innovative solutions,” said Veasey. “And so, that’s something that obviously translates into a strong bottom line.”
Veasey said it’s important that the state’s future workforce be exposed to open-minded conversations about topics like racism and sexism.
She said she feels the divisive concepts law can also hurt employee retention efforts in a state already struggling with a worker shortage.
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NH Businesses and Organizations Stand in Opposition to Legislative Efforts to Limit Workplace Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Training New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility 3/30/21
COMPLAINT CHALLENGING NH DIVISIVE CONCEPTS BILL HB2 (lawsuit as filed) ACLU 12/20/21
HB544: Relative to the propagation of divisive concepts (first version of the divulsive concepts law) the New Hampshire Legislature 2021
New Hampshire labor force participation rate BLS 1/20/23
This story was written by Kathryn Carley, a producer at Public News Service, where this story first appeared.