By Doug Ireland
School officials are wondering how to deal with a new state law that gives parents veto power over what their children are being taught.
The law took effect earlier this month when the Legislature overrode Gov. John Lynch's veto of House Bill 542.
The law requires school districts to adopt policies allowing parents to object to any material their child is learning. Several superintendents said yesterday they are consulting with school board members to put policies in place.
Tonight, Salem Superintendent Michael Delahanty said he will explain the new law to the town's School Board.
"It is something I would have liked them to have familiarity with before I bring back proposed policies," Delahanty said.
Last week, the Timberlane Regional School Board started considering its own policy, Superintendent Richard La Salle said. The board's policy committee will consider the matter further Feb. 16.
Delahanty, La Salle and other local superintendents said it's not unusual for a parent to object to the teaching of a topic such as sexual education.
In those cases, the districts work with the parent to resolve the issue, which can mean the student does not participate in discussion of the subject, the superintendents said.
Parents sometimes object to their children reading certain books, such as "Catcher in the Rye."
District policies usually involve a panel reviewing the parent's request and determining how to proceed. The student is often given a different book to read, the superintendents said.
But the new law is so broad, school officials said they are not sure how they should draft their policies. They are also concerned that complying with the law could become an administrative nightmare.
"It does raise a number of questions," Londonderry school Superintendent Nate Greenberg said. "If you look at it, it could create major problems."
Greenberg questions how the law should be interpreted and implemented.
"What (the bill's sponsor) is saying is anyone can object to anything for any reason," Greenberg said.
What if the parents of several students raised objections, superintendents asked. It could disrupt an entire class, they said.
Parents would be required to foot the cost of teaching their children an alternative subject, according to the law.
HB 542 was drafted by Republican Rep. J.R. Hoell, R-Dunbarton, and passed by the Legislature last year. The law is overdue, he said yesterday.
"There has been a lot of concern for years that parents have very little say in the education of their children," Hoell said. "It's either take it or leave it."
He said parents are praising the law, but school officials remain skeptical.
"As for parents, they all love it," Hoell said. "As for superintendents, they are all concerned."
The law was enacted after lawmakers overrode Lynch's veto only two weeks ago.
But Henry LaBranche, superintendent of Windham and Pelham schools, said the two school districts began work on their policies about six weeks ago.
At that time, it was clear the bill would become law, he said.
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