I’ve been advocating for parental rights and excellence in education for over a decade in New Hampshire. I’ve done this without any compensation. I’ve never looked for those kinds of rewards, I’ve done it because it’s the right thing to do.

I can say without a doubt that if parents do not become more involved with their local schools, they may end up regretting that decision.

A few years ago a disturbing story unraveled in Concord. One that showed us the incredible damage that can be done when a sexual predator is hired to work in the school. But that story goes much further. Not only were children exposed to serious harm, parents quickly figured out that some of the people working in the school district were not looking out for their children.

For instance, a Concord student reported some of the behavior from the teacher she found to be disturbing. Instead of school personnel acting on this information, the student was suspended. What happened to the mandatory reporters and, why was no one in the district ever charged for not reporting this information? I am told that some of the people involved are still working in the Concord School District.

This is an extreme example of protecting the institution over the child but I’m seeing this play out more as I continue my research.

A Rochester school board member called for an investigation when she found out that the Superintendent and Board Chair accessed the emails of her, another board member and union representative without her knowledge. When she asked for an ethics investigation she was outnumbered. There will be no investigation even though the IT specialist was possibly fired after refusing to do what he thought was unethical and possibly illegal.  What is legal is not always ethical, and those charged with caring for our kids need to uphold the highest level of ethics.

School district administrators continue to make the case that the public schools are underfunded. However, they have no problem paying dues to lobbying organizations that oftentimes work against parents. That’s right, parents fund the school budget, then their money is taken out of the budget and diverted to lobbyists who fight against parental rights and academic excellence in the public schools.

A case in point, House Bill 140 before the New Hampshire Education Committee would create a right for families to sue public school officials that permit bullying — in person or online.  You would think that no one would oppose this Bill. If school officials are acting grossly negligent, they need to be accountable for that. If they are handling the situation, they have nothing to worry about.

The current bullying law in New Hampshire has no teeth. If you don’t have highly motivated administrators, some of these cases are being swept under the rug. 

RSA 193-F:7 is the section that gives immunity to school districts and employees for “good faith conduct arising from or pertaining to the reporting, investigation, findings, recommended response, or implementation of a recommended response under this chapter.” 

Section 9 of the law explicitly states that the statute creates no private right of action for a student who is harmed because the authorities don’t follow the law and fail to protect the student from bullying. 

The case of Gauthier v. Manchester School District, 168 N.H. 143 (2015) demonstrates how useless this law is. A female student was assaulted on a school bus. The school principal failed to notify the student’s parents as required by the law. Eleven days later, the bully assaulted the female student again in the cafeteria, this time causing injuries which required hospital treatment. The mother of the injured student sued the School District for failing to follow the law to protect her child, but the case was dismissed due to the immunity section of the law

That’s a BIG LOOPHOLE. So why would anyone oppose closing it? Yet that’s exactly what the lobbyists did, oppose closing the loophole. If you read through this article in the Union Leader you can see how the lobbyists for the NHSBA (New Hampshire School Boards Association) and NHSAA (New Hampshire School Administrators Association) were warning against passing HB140. Their focus was? Protecting the institution.

Rochester board members first started by ignoring the person they were hiring for the Superintendent’s position who wasn’t properly credentialed. They are now ignoring possible unethical behavior. One board member, Audrey Stevens even went so far as to suggest a new policy to silence the entire school board from talking to the police or media if an issue like this arises again in the future until they address it with the school board. So what are they to do if they hear about sexual misconduct? Wait for the next board meeting to get approval on when to speak to the police or media? That’s not only absurd, that’s dangerous. 

This is creating a toxic situation in schools. It’s critical that board members understand their role which is to represent the people who elected them. They do not answer to the Superintendent, in fact the Superintendent answers to them.

Transparency and ethics are good characteristics of the kind of people we need serving on the boards of education and leading our public schools. There is no reason to pay lobbyists when school districts hire law firms.  If they are strapped for cash, why do they insist on paying lobbyists who fight to protect the institution instead of the children in our public schools?  

It’s budget season. I would suggest asking for an itemized report on the dues your district sends to the NHSBA and NHSAA. Tell your board members and administrators that paying for lobbyists who do not represent the taxpayers in the district is not fiscally responsible. But more importantly, step up and run for school board and put kids first. 

Ann Marie Banfield has been researching education and working as an activist for over a decade. She has traveled to Concord to lobby on behalf of parental rights and literacy. Working with experts in education from across the country, she offers valuable insight into problems and successes in education. She holds a B.A. in Business Management from Franklin University in Columbus Ohio. Ann Marie and her husband have three children and reside in North Hampton, NH