Aimed at clarifying new legislation banning “discriminatory” teaching in public schools and workplaces, the Attorney General’s Office issued guidance Wednesday for educators and employers.
The law passed as part of the budget in June prohibits teaching, for example, that people of one race are superior to another, or that people carry conscious or unconscious bias because of their race or gender. Racial justice advocates raised concerns that the legislation could have the effect of ending implicit bias training for police, or would push teachers to censor their lessons on American history and current events.
The guidance from the AG’s office, the Department of Education and the state’s Human Rights Commission addresses some of these concerns. The guidelines explicitly allow for implicit bias training, and for teaching about the uglier chapters of American history and current events.
The guidance notes that discomfort in talking about discrimination is not the same as being discriminated against. Training or teaching that makes someone feel uncomfortable is not a violation of the new law.
“The mere fact that a lesson may make students, faculty or parents uncomfortable does not mean that the school has violated the Prohibition on Teaching Discrimination,” the guidance states. “Lessons and trainings about discrimination and oppression may cause discomfort when participants consider the impact of these forces in their own lives, or the lingering impacts of historic oppression.”
Teaching about American history is allowed per the guidance, including lessons on slavery, segregation, the treatment of Native Americans and other institutional discrimination. Teachers are also free to discuss current events, including the Black Lives Matter movement, according to the guidance.
Presented in a question-and-answer format, the guidance also said that the law does not apply to instruction at public universities, including the University of New Hampshire system. Workplace training for staff, faculty and volunteers does fall under the law.
The guidance states the law should not be interpreted as banning teaching difficult history or training public employees on discrimination and unconscious bias.
Advocates applauded the clarity in Wednesday’s statement, but worried the bill will chill speech and efforts to address historic discrimination.
The guidance, including the sections that allow implicit bias training and separating discomfort from discrimination, is just guidance, said James McKim, president of the Manchester NAACP. He said that someone could file a complaint or bring a civil complaint to stop implicit bias training.
McKim said he also worried that White students or public employees would use the law to challenge affirmative action programs. The legislation requires equal treatment, but McKim said equal treatment can serve to enforce historic discrimination.
He was pleased to see the guidance defined the law’s use of “inherent” to mean natural, biological or innate characteristics. The law bans teaching that a group is “inherently” inferior or superior, or that a group is “inherently” discriminatory.
“We’re socialized to discriminate; we’re not born with it,” McKim said Wednesday.