By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – State Rep. Glenn Cordelli, R-Tuftonboro, has amended House Bill 533 to give Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut subpoena power in cases of educator misconduct.
“This bill gives the commission of education the authority to issue subpoenas related to violations of the code of ethics and code of conduct for licensed or certified personnel,” the amendment says.
It amends HB 533 which would allow the Department of Education to bring a complaint on student discriminatory practices to the state Commission on Human Rights.
Cordelli said that part of the bill is less important as Attorney General John Formella is now being more agreeable to filing those complaints.
Originally HB 533 would have allowed the Department of Education to file charges of discrimination on behalf of an aggrieved party with the Human Rights Commission.
The amended bill will be heard March 8 at 9 a.m. in the Legislative Office Building in Concord.
A subpoena is a writ or order commanding a person to appear before a court or other tribunal, subject to a penalty for failing to comply, according to Black’s Law Dictionary.
“I had a couple of incidents related to me where the Department was trying to get information from schools and in a couple of cases they were met with resistance from the administration. I felt this would help (Commissioner Edelblut) in cases of substantial incidents in schools that deserve immediate follow-up,” Cordelli said.
Cordelli said the Department of Education was having trouble getting cases referred to the Human Rights Commission with “roadblocks at the Attorney General’s Office.” Since the public hearing on the original bill “they have been more cooperative,” Cordelli said.
“Sometimes it takes a little push to get things moving,” he added.
Cordelii said this bill is unrelated to another bill he co-sponsored, House Bill 544 which became known as the “divisive concepts” bill.
That bill died, he said, but some of the framework was added in 2021 via the state budget into anti-discrimination statutes that left many in the education field confused as to what they were allowed to teach.
Attorney General John Formella’s spokesman Mike Garrity said: “The Office of the Attorney General typically does not take a position on policy matters impacting other agencies. We note that several other state agencies and boards have subpoena authority in order to investigate matters over which they have authority such as licenses and certifications.”
Megan Tuttle, president of NEA-NH said of the amendment, “We are concerned, but we will listen closely at the hearing to hear what the reasons are for this and we will make a decision after that.”
An email response from the New Hampshire Department of Education said: “The New Hampshire Department of Education investigates a wide variety of educator misconduct. This subpoena power puts the Department on par with other licensing boards in the State of New Hampshire.”
Last month, a federal judge ruled that a lawsuit against the divisive concepts law brought by the American Federation of Teachers and AFT-NH could move forward.
The controversial law is now called the “Right to Freedom from Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education.”
US Federal District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro allowed the lawsuit to go forward, rejecting the state’s request to dismiss it, saying “teachers could, in plaintiff’s words, be left with ‘an impermissible Hobson’s choice’: shirking their responsibilities under [state law] or teaching what [the law] requires and potentially violating the prohibition against teaching a banned concept.”