House Republicans are pushing for a bill that would prevent school districts from denying elected school officials access to facilities or documents, and make it a crime for school officials who break the law.
House Bill 1072 would prohibit elected members of school boards, budget committees, “or any other elected office of the school district” from being denied access to “any school facility, document, or event by any school superintendent, school principal or faculty member while that person is in office.”
Voting 10 to 9 by party, members of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee recommended passage of the bill, arguing that it was necessary to prevent public officials from being punished by school administrators for their policy.
But Democrats and public school officials say the bill is unnecessary and argue it could lead to elected officials forcing access to confidential student information.
The bill includes an exception for a public official who has been convicted or is currently charged with an offense that currently bars a person from teaching or working in a New Hampshire school.
School officials who violate the bill by barring an official would face a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,200.
For Rep. Ken Weyler, a Republican from Kingston and one of the bill’s co-sponsors, the legislation would allow local officials to get more insight into finances, including details on special education funding .
“We spent $100,000 to have this student advised by such and such, what are the results? said Weyler. “Is there a change in behavior? Did they learn to read? Did they learn to write? Show me the progress of this very expensive student we’ve had for several years. I think that’s a legitimate question.
But opponents argued that the bill was loosely worded and could allow public officials to enter school grounds during the school day without obtaining prior approval from school officials. And they say it could create legal headaches for schools trying to comply with the Education Rights and Family Privacy Act, which protects student records and health information.
“Could a school board or a budget committee get, overall, how much money we spend on special education? Yes,” said Barrett Christina, executive director of the New Hampshire School Boards Association. “Could they get numbers, in total, on how many paraprofessionals we have on staff who provide special education services? Yes. But asking how much this placement costs for this particular child and how many paraprofessionals and assistants for this particular child, in our opinion, would touch on the aspect of confidentiality that you are not allowed to breach.
The bill will be presented to the full House later this month.