Recently Gilford High School parents learned that their ninth-graders were assigned a controversial book for class, “Nineteen Minutes.” Superintendent Kent Hemingway says the district did not notify parents about the book assignment in advance, and only indicated it would do so on Monday, May 5th, well after parents expressed concerns. Many Gilford parents believe the book is inappropriate for their teens due to a rape-like scene. The book also contains gun violence and bullying.
At last night’s Gilford School Board meeting, Mr. William Baer, who spoke about this controversial assignment with the Laconia Daily Sun, was arrested on disorderly conduct charges after continuing to speak after his two-minute allotted time. Mr. Baer was handcuffed in the hallway and taken to the local police department. The incident has been reported in several New Hampshire news sources including the Union Leader and WMUR has a video of the incident.
The core issue is a parent’s right to direct their child’s education. In 2011 the New Hampshire legislature passed HB 542 allowing parents to opt-out their child from controversial material in the classroom at their own expense. They must work with the school to find a mutually satisfactory alternative. The Gilford school district did not provide adequate or reasonable notification, thereby denying the parents the opportunity to review the assigned material.
The situation is further aggravated by the Gilford School Board’s announcement that “The School District policies IGE, IJ, IJA, KEC (available on the school district website) refer to the procedures for the use of novels controversial material. The district will take immediate action to revise these policies to include notification that requires parents to accept controversial material rather than opt out. Furthermore, the notification will detail more specifically the controversial material. These policies will be revised prior to the 2014-2015 school year.”
The Gilford School Board seems ignorant of the changes in RSA 186:11. Section IX-c reads as follows:
IX-c. Require school districts to adopt a policy allowing an exception to specific course material based on a parent’s or legal guardian’s determination that the material is objectionable. Such policy shall include a provision requiring the parent or legal guardian to notify the school principal or designee in writing of the specific material to which they object and a provision requiring an alternative agreed upon by the school district and the parent, at the parent’s expense, sufficient to enable the child to meet state requirements for education in the particular subject area. The name of the parent or legal guardian and any specific reasons disclosed to school officials for the objection to the material shall not be public information and shall be excluded from access under RSA 91-A.
The Gilford school district and school board have failed to take responsibility for adequate and appropriate parental notification. Whether any individual believes the material is or is not appropriate for teens is irrelevant. The Gilford school district is dismissive of parents and their role to direct their children’s education.
Parents have the right to determine if material is appropriate for their child. This relatively-new law does not allow one family to dictate the curricula for an entire class or ban a book from a school. However, it is time that school officials recognize that parents are the final decision makers regarding their child’s education.
More and more national news sources are covering this situation. The latest is the Huffington Post. Parents must be able to direct their children’s education. Parents do not surrender that right when enrolling them in the public schools.