CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — William Shakespeare and Robert Frost made an appearance in the New Hampshire Senate on Thursday as lawmakers approved a measure requiring schools to give parents at least two weeks’ notice if a teacher plans to use material related to human sexuality or sexual education that some could consider objectionable.
Sen. David Watters invoked the Bard and New Hampshire’s favorite literary son to oppose the bill, which came in response to an angry father’s complaint last year that he didn’t know his high school-aged daughter was reading a novel that contained sexually explicit material.
Watters, an English professor at the University of New Hampshire, said the bill opens the way to censorship where classic works of literature could suddenly find themselves on the objectionable list.
“Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo,” Watters said, gesturing to the Senate balcony before riffing on the Shakespeare tragedy. “Yo, Juliet, I’ll have to get back to you in two weeks. We’re talking about teenage sexuality here.”
Alas, Watters, who also recited part of Frost’s poem, “Putting in the Seed,” couldn’t carry the day as the measure passed by a Republican-led, party-line vote, 14-10.
It follows a controversy last year when William Baer complained that his daughter, a student at Gilford High School, had read a novel about bullying that contained a sexually explicit passage. Baer said the book “Nineteen Minutes” by New Hampshire author Jodi Picoult read like “the transcript for a triple-X-rated movie.”
The Gilford school board later apologized for not sending home prior notice.
Supporters of the measure rejected the censorship argument.
“It was offensive to him,” Republican Sen. Kevin Avard said of Baer’s reaction to “Nineteen Minutes.” ‘’He couldn’t read it in front of his daughter. Parents have a right to know.”
Parents already can object to material in a school’s curriculum; the bill adds the two-week notification and specifically identifies human sexuality as a topic. Parents have to identify, in writing, the specific material they consider objectionable and agree with the school on an alternative to meet educational standards.
Besides the two-week notice, the bill calls for schools to make the material available to parents when practical. It strips language from a similar House bill that allowed for reprimand of teachers who don’t give notice. The amended version now goes back to the House.