Republican Gov. Chris Sununu on Thursday denounced a conservative group’s offer to pay $500 to the first person who “catches” a public school teacher violating New Hampshire’s new limits on the discussion of systemic racism and other topics.
Sununu had opposed an earlier version of the legislation that echoed a Trump administration order and sought to ban discussion of “divisive concepts” in schools. But he later backed language inserted into the state budget ’that would prohibit teaching children that they are inferior, racist, sexist or oppressive by virtue of their race, gender or other characteristics.
After the state Department of Education set up a website last week to collect complaints against teachers, The New Hampshire chapter of Moms for Liberty tweeted “We’ve got $500 for the person that first successfully catches a public school teacher breaking this law.” In a follow up, the conservative parents’ organization told supporters to designate online donations as “CRT Bounty’s,” referring to critical race theory.
“The Governor condemns the tweet referencing ‘bounties’ and any sort of financial incentive is wholly inappropriate and has no place,” Sununu’s spokesperson, Ben Vihstadt, said in an email.
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Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut offered mild criticism when asked this week about the tweets.
“I would encourage people to be very careful on social media,” he said in an interview. “There’s a lot of rhetoric on social media that is not helpful or constructive.”
Republicans cast the law as an effort to strengthen anti-discrimination laws and said it would allow the teaching of such concepts in a historical context. But Democrats argue it will prevent teaching about implicit bias and structural racism and sexism.
Though the Department of Education published the online reporting form, complaints will go directly to the state Commission on Human Rights, which can dismiss them or investigate further. Decisions against teachers could be used by the state Board of Education to discipline them, including revocation of licenses.
Deb Howes, president of the American Federation of Teachers New Hampshire, has accused Edelblut of launching a “war on teachers.” And the New Hampshire School Administrators Association is urging Sununu to work with educators and families to clarify what will be considered appropriate teaching on history and race relations. It had called on Sununu to denounce the “bounty” tweets on Wednesday.
“Our state is at a turning point. Do we allow these attacks to continue to drive good, caring teachers and administrators away from our schools? Do we value our schools as the community assets they are, or are they merely the Commissioner’s political punching bags?” the association said in a statement.
Edelblut countered that the new reporting process protects teachers because it sets up a neutral process for resolving complaints. He likened it to similar systems set up to handle complaints against other licensed professionals, from lawyers and doctors to cosmetologists.
“The shock relative to the fact that this is a website that was provided seems inconsistent with what’s happening in the rest of the professional world,” he said. “Cosmetology doesn’t view this as an attack on cosmetology because someone lets someone file a complaint.”
Critical race theory has become a rallying cry for some conservatives who take issue with how schools have addressed diversity and inclusion. The theory is a way of analyzing American history through the lens of racism but is not itself a fixture of K-12 instruction.