How much parental control is too much parental control?

In the past 12 months, parents of children enrolled in New Hampshire public schools have objected to their children being assigned to read 19 Minutes, The Hunger Games, Water for Elephants, and Nickel and Dimed, according to published news reports. The latter book, authored by Barbara Ehrenreich, refers to Jesus Christ as a “wine-guzzling vagrant” and a “precocious socialist.” The book documents her efforts to live on minimum wage as she critiques America's economic system.

Parents, who objected to what they considered graphic language in these books, sought authority from the New Hampshire legislature this year to overrule reading assignments for their children that they consider objectionable. The legislature responded.

This year, the New Hampshire General Court adopted HB 542 by more than a 2-to-1 margin in the House and nearly a 4-to-1 margin in the Senate. The bill would require school districts to adopt a policy allowing an exception to specific course material based on a parent’s or guardian’s determination that the material is objectionable.

Parents would have been required to notify the school principal or designee in writing. Then, the parent and school officials would have to agree upon an alternate assignment, sufficient to meet state curriculum requirements in the particular subject area. Gov. John Lynch vetoed the bill on July 13.

In Lynch’s veto message, he wrote he was vetoing the legislation “because it does not clearly define what material would be objectionable; it would be disruptive to classrooms and other students; and it would be difficult for school districts to administer.”

NH Parents First had pushed for even stronger provisions in the bill. They supported an earlier version of the bill, which would have given parents power to overrule assigned course material without having to negotiate with the school district to agree upon alternative reading. A statement from the group asks, “Does anyone believe that districts will suddenly work cooperatively to allow parents to opt out, en masse if necessary, replacing objectionable school materials at the parent's own expense, of course?”

Lynch also noted current law in New Hampshire allows parents to remove children from classes for particular lessons on health and sex education. He said the bill goes too far by giving parents of every student veto power over every single lesson plan.