New bill seeks to repeal “divisive concepts” law

Sign Up For Our FREE Daily eNews!

Peter Petrigno (D-Milford) on Jan. 12, 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

CONCORD, N.H. – On Thursday, the New Hampshire House of Representatives Education Committee gathered for over three hours in Representatives’ Hall to hear a bill that would repeal what has become commonly known as the “divisive concepts” law.

The bill, HB 61, states that no educational law would bar any school employee from discussing historical or current concepts of any group. Wording in the law this bill aims to repeal prohibits educators from stating any one group is inherently superior or inferior to any other group.

Supporters of HB 61, expressed concern over confusion on what teachers may or may not teach under the law without breaking that law.

Others, such as Jonah Wheeler (D-Peterborough) and Maria Perez (D-Milford), said that the law have increased discrimination and harmed people such as themselves explore their heritage.

Other supporters of the bill expressed frustration that the law was ultimately passed as an amendment through the state budget in what was seen as effort to obfuscate transparency regarding passage of the law.

Tina Philibotte, Chief Equity Officer of the Manchester School District speaking on her own behalf, shared experiences from her own life as a student in New Hampshire where she was the only non-white person in her school and the similar struggles her daughter shared.

Philibotte said that her daughter spoke against the bill that enacted the current law and in seconds her daughter received death threats on social media, going on to elaborate that regardless what the initial intention of the law was, it has emboldened those who support discrimination.

“The one that stands out the most for me was, ‘I would like to see a bullet wound exit your head,” she said, regarding the death threats against her daughter.

Hanover School Board Member Deb Nelson, one of several individuals speaking in favor of the bill,  said that the vagueness of the law seems to support the teaching of a “narrowed” history and that educational colleagues have begun to either skip topics or leave teaching completely due to the law.

Arlene Quaratiello (R-Atkinson) on Jan. 12, 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

Nelson also said that some supporters of the law are powered by “dark forces” that seek to prohibit any discussion about the issues that serve as the roots of discrimination.

Peter Petrigno (D-Milford), the prime sponsor of the bill, said that the law has nothing to do with discrimination, but is rather about silencing teacher voices.

“To be honest, I never understood why there was a need for this law in the first place,” he said.

Committee members Alicia Lekas (R-Hudson) and Arlene Quaratiello (R-Atkinson) asked several people testifying how the law prevented educators talking about concepts related to racism, with responses centered around what seen as a chilling effect for teachers fearing the consequences mentioned by Nelson as well as others saying that classrooms and schools have been disrupted by challenges around trying to work within the law and keep their students safe from racist attacks.

Keith Ammon (R-New Boston), one of the sponsors of the bill that created the current law, said that the intent of the law was to make everyone feel free from fears of discrimination in schools and that educators have limits on their free speech rights like any other employee with that speech interferes with the ability to do their job, using the example that teachers cannot start talking about subjects they were not hired to teach just because they feel like it.

The majority of individuals testifying on the law spoke in favor of its passage, with 30 of the 37 people signed up outside the hall indicating that they were in favor of the bill. For those with viewpoints in opposition stated that the law kept politics out of the classroom and prevented judgment of students, with others advocating that teachers should be publicly recorded while teaching for the sake of transparency.

One of those people speaking against the bill, a man named Brady Owens, asked if any teachers had been prosecuted under the law and that they had support from unions while parents did not. He also felt that the bill would not help create safer spaces within schools and said the comments regarding “dark forces” did not “promote unity.”


Keith Ammon (R-New Boston) on Jan. 12, 2023. Photo/Andrew Sylvia

UPDATE: Additional comments have been released in regard to HB 61

House Majority Leader Jason Osborne (R-Auburn) and Deputy Majority Leader Jim Kofalt (R- Wilton)

“It’s appalling to see that Democrats in our state are attempting to repeal our anti-discrimination statute. At today’s hearing, supporters of the HB61 repeal repeatedly called for mutual respect, fairness, and a society that is fully open to participation by everyone. We agree 100%. 

Unfortunately, repealing our anti-discrimination law would have precisely the opposite effect. The testimonies we heard today were pure myths and scare tactics. The current law does nothing to prohibit the teaching of racism and its effects throughout history. Despite what you heard, the current law does not mention critical race theory. What it does prohibit is teaching children that some of them are inherently racist based on their skin color, sex, race, creed, etc. Is that not what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for when he said, ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character?’

What we heard today is that the current law is vague and unclear. There is nothing vague or unclear about prohibiting discrimination. Luckily for those who do not know how to teach without discrimination, the Department of Education has provided further clarification on that law that is easily accessible on their website.

Our goal should be unity, and we will never get there if the state is indoctrinating our citizens to presume specific people are born to be oppressors. No one is inherently superior or inferior to anyone else. This is about individuals, not a group of people.”

Grace Kindeke, NH Program Coordinator, American Friends Service Committee.

“Public discourse, policy, and the social and economic fabric of our state is strengthened by critical analysis that enables us to recognize and repair historical inequities embedded in the policies and practices of our institutions. To reduce systemic racism, sexism and ableism solely to individual and interpersonal guilt is in itself a tactic meant to distort the very real disparities embedded in our laws and institutions. These inequities are divisive because of the harm they cause, not because they are uncomfortable to discuss or learn about. Our willingness to examine and discuss our history and institutional responsibilities enables us to embody our values and realize the promises of the Beloved Community that Dr. King dreamed for us. One that is united because we are willing to courageously confront these injustices no matter how uncomfortable it is.”

Mary Wilke, Education Working Group, Kent Street Coalition

“Every student in our schools deserves a full and accurate history education. Teachers are professionals who enter their line of work because they are devoted to building the best possible outcomes for our children. They are held accountable by their administrators and school boards, and they can be trusted to teach in a fair and honest way. Please support our students and teachers and repeal the banned concepts law.”

Chris Erchull, Attorney, GLAD:

“The promise of Brown v. Board of Ed., that “separate but equal” is inherently unequal, went beyond ensuring that students of different races be allowed to learn together—the decision taught us that our Constitution promises public school students a truly integrated education. An education that fully acknowledges the victories and failures of the past, while celebrating our differences and promoting unity, will vindicate the cherished aspiration of our Declaration of Independence, the firm belief that all men are created equal. HB 61 brings us a step closer to that promise, ensuring that New Hampshire students will be stewards of a future free from inequality based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other core aspect of identity.”

Sarah Robinson, Education Campaign Director for Granite State Progress:

“The goal of anti-CRT rhetoric, the attacks on LGBTQ+ students, and statutes such as the banned concepts law are political attacks to undermine public education in our state and block progress on racial, gender, and ability justice. This effort of ‘death by a million cuts’ against our public schools is precisely why the banned concepts law is being protected by bad actors in our legislature. Our children deserve the freedom to learn from the mistakes of the past in order to build a better future, together. Only those opposed to that goal and afraid of what honest conversation may lead to would want to deny our children the knowledge and community they need to learn and grow as thoughtful, connected members of our community.”

Deb Howes President AFT-NH:

“The Legislature should have the courage to stand up for all Granite Staters to make a major course correction by passing HB61 which repeals the so-called divisive concepts law. New Hampshire lawmakers need to be brave enough to stand up for Granite State students and ensure that teachers can do their jobs of teaching the school board approved curriculum without having to look over their shoulder in fear of being investigated and losing their job. Our public school students deserve a full and robust education in classroom communities where they feel welcomed and academically challenged, including discussions that involve topics of race, gender or discrimination.” 

Megan Tuttle, President NEA-New Hampshire:

“New Hampshire has consistently ranked in the top 3 or 4 states with regards to public education. Our students and our state lose if opportunities to constructively address issues such as race in our classrooms are muzzled and criminalized. HB 61 restores the ability to provide diverse educational approaches to instruction and curriculum tailored to meet students’ needs. Our students deserve the freedom to learn.”

James McKim, President, Manchester NAACP:

“In addition to causing confusion in the education community of New Hampshire, in passing the Right to Freedom From Discrimination Act last session, legislators eroded even further the trust people of color and teachers have in government. The Act fails to consider that the racism, seismic, aging ARE inherent in our legislation and society as evidenced by the systemic discrimination built into our institutions and society because of personal and systemic bias in institutional policies and procedures. The Act says this fact should not be taught. This is gaslighting of the people of color and teachers in the state of NH. And it seeks to provide a remedy for a problem, purportedly teachers teaching their political opinions, that does not exist. As experts in legislation have said, there is no way to rewrite this legislation to “save it”. Passing HB61 is the only real way to eliminate confusion and start to rebuild trust in government to only act where it is beneficial to ALL people.” 

Jen Bisson, President, Support Our Schools:

“I fully support HB61, which repeals the ‘divisive concepts ban’. As a parent of two young children, I want my daughters to get the best education possible. And that is not possible if their teachers are censored by politicians. We need to give our teachers the respect that they deserve and treat them as the professionals that they are. We are only short-changing the education of our children by allowing the ‘divisive concepts ban’ to remain the law of the land. I am calling on our legislators to support HB61 to repeal this harmful law.”

Michelle Veasey, Executive Director, NH Businesses for Social Responsibility:

“As a network of over 200 businesses and organizations focused on sustainability and corporate responsibility, NHBSR works to support and inspire workplace environments that encourage inclusivity and equity.  Our businesses know that when employees feel valued and can bring their whole selves to work, they more fully contribute to the business function and engage in problem solving at a much higher level.  Today’s businesses invest in diversity, equity and inclusion education and training because they understand that diverse perspectives and open-minded exploration supports innovative thinking and opportunity.  The business community does not shy away from our difficult past, but learns from it.  Our educators need to have the same support in order to create a stronger future workforce. For this and the reasons outlined in our original letter of opposition to the Divisive Concepts legislation in 2021 (HB544), we encourage the Education Committee to move this legislation forward with bi-partisan support, for the sake of our children, our future employees and our economic prosperity.”

Carisa Corrow, Founder, Educating for Good:

“As a facilitator of tough conversations about school improvement, I often use the question, “What’s the worst that can happen if we try this idea?” Since passing the banned concepts language into law, we’ve seen some of the worst things that have happened to our public schools in recent history: our Commissioner of Education has targeted individual teachers’ pedagogy, bounties have been issued by extremists to identify teachers who are teaching truth in schools, and difficult conversations have been chilled across the state. The long-term effects will be much worse as our students will not be prepared to live and compete in an economy made up of people with diverse perspectives. So, let’s consider the worst that can happen if we repeal the law and pass HB 61: We allow free discourse and debate in our public schools without intimidation. Sounds like a win for democracy to me.”

Ray Buckley, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman

“Politically motivated bans on ‘divisive’ school curriculum represent the worst impulses of the NH GOP today. Denying racism exists doesn’t make it go away. Punishing teachers for acknowledging the existence of racism is just another way to demoralize and disrespect our hardworking, Granite State educators — an endeavor the New Hampshire Republican Party has engaged in on several fronts.
“All Democrats and justice minded people across the state hope HB 61 passes and the ban is repealed. It’s an embarrassment to our state and should never have been signed by Chris Sununu.”

About this Author

Andrew Sylvia

Assistant EditorManchester Ink Link

Born and raised in the Granite State, Andrew Sylvia has written approximately 10,000 pieces over his career for outlets across Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. On top of that, he's a licensed notary and licensed to sell property, casualty and life insurance, he's been a USSF trained youth soccer and futsal referee for the past six years and he can name over 60 national flags in under 60 seconds according to that flag game app he has on his phone, which makes sense because he also has a bachelor's degree in geography (like Michael Jordan). He can also type over 100 words a minute on a good day.