The banned concepts statute is a significant threat to the disability rights movement.
Today, we joined a diverse group of educators, advocacy groups, and law firms in filing a federal lawsuit challenging the ‘Banned Concepts’ law, a new state law which we believe will discourage our public school teachers from honest conversations about race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability in the classroom. This law also applies to other public employees.
Touted by supporters as an anti-discrimination bill, the law actually harms those it claims to protect, including students and others with disabilities. By discouraging open and honest discourse of difficult topics related to disability, this law poses a significant threat to the disability rights movement.
Many people without disabilities are not even aware of the discrimination and barriers people with disabilities face every day. Breaking down these barriers, both physical and societal, has required – and continues to require – open discussion about difficult subjects by people of all ages, especially by young people in educational settings.
Due to its vagueness, the ‘Banned Concepts’ law may impact discussions and considerations required by state and federal law that entitle people with disabilities to receive reasonable accommodations or modifications to ensure that they are treated equitably in society.
The vague and overbroad language puts educators at risk of losing their livelihoods if they teach about historical events, like the horrors that led to the closure of the Laconia State School, even if they do so to critique this history. School children and public employees should not only be learning about the cruel and inhumane history of discrimination that led to laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act, but also how discrimination continues today. The law may even require teachers to censor conversations by students with disabilities themselves about these issues and the ableism they face. Only through these discussions, will areas of conscious and unconscious bias against people with disabilities be identified and addressed.
Necessary classroom discussions about disability, mental illness, ableism, inclusion, and other related topics will not occur if teachers fear that they will face discipline as a result. The chilling effect of this law not only threatens continued progress towards an inclusive society, it also jeopardizes the progress we have already made.