Op-ed: SB 341 Endangers Students with Disabilities

(Photo by DAVID MCNEW / AFP)

By Jules Good (They/Them)

March 6, 2024

As a disability policy professional and former educator, I have grave concerns about SB 341, the so-called “parental bill of rights”, and the negative impact it will have on disabled students if passed. While this bill does not name LGBTQ or disabled students specifically, it is more about expanding the surveillance of students at schools than “forced outing” of LGBTQ students, as last year’s SB 272 did.

If passed, SB 341 will result in less information being shared with educators because educators will have a legal obligation to record a considerable amount of information that a student could share with them. And it will result in real harm to students whose families are not adequately prepared to hear information about their kids, especially since that information will be coming from people who aren’t trained in how to have those conversations.

A concerning number of parents to disabled students have quietly been supporting this bill because they believe it will allow them to better advocate for their students’ educational needs. This could not be further from the truth.

To start, there is already robust federal legislation that outlines the rights of parents concerning the education of their disabled student(s), Subpart E of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Schools and service providers must obtain the consent of parents/guardians before administering any form of evaluation or intervention.

Parents also have the right to decline any evaluations/services they do not feel are appropriate for their student. There are detailed dispute resolution and mediation procedures embedded in the law. SB 341 does not improve upon these standards but rather makes it impossible for teachers to protect students who do not have supportive adults at home.

SB 341 endangers disabled students, who are already over three times more likely than their nondisabled peers to encounter at least one form of abuse in their lifetime. Students with communication-related disabilities may not have the support they need to express concerns about their home life to their teachers.

If a parent/guardian demands information about a student from an educator, the educator may not be aware of the risk sharing that information could pose to the student, rendering the so-called “safeguard” of mandatory reporting referenced in the bill text utterly useless.

Abuse and neglect of disabled children and family members is so prevalent that the disability community annually observes Disability Day of Mourning on March 1st, where we commemorate the lives of disabled people who have been killed by their family members. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network began tracking this specific type of killing, called filicide, in 2014. The database of victims includes about 2,000 entries from all over the world, and those are just the cases that made the news.

Harmony Montgomery, a Manchester resident who was five years old at the time of her disappearance in 2019 and whose father and killer was recently found guilty of her murder, was blind in one eye. Had she been in school and had another adult to confide in, she may still be with us today.

Educators are a lifeline for students enduring what no child should have to go through. SB 341 prevents teachers from keeping some of our most vulnerable students safe. The NH State Senate will vote on SB 341 this Thursday, March 7th. Please contact them and urge them to vote against the bill.


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