After a relatively slow start amidst COVID-19 restrictions, the Legislature came off the ropes in the late rounds to produce a flurry of changes to K-12 law. In this article, we will focus on a few bills or bill provisions that require immediate action or preparation.
Senate Bill 200 did not pass, but its provisions were included in two separate bills that did pass both chambers. The final version restricts the right of parents to retain their children to grades K-5 and only when there are academic reasons for the request.
Principals should be prepared for these requests to start very soon. A parent must make the request before June 30th, and it must include academic reasons for the request. Once the request is received, the principal will share it with the student’s teachers and then collaboratively discuss the request with the parent and teachers. A parent must be informed that the request could affect the student’s athletic eligibility down the road. The team may choose to develop a one-year plan to bring the student back to grade level instead of retention, which might include additional supports and services, summer school, mid-year promotion, or promotion in some classes but not all. However, the parent gets to make the final decision and must sign a form indicating the parent’s acknowledgment of the possible academic and athletic ramifications. Finally, if the student has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the IEP team will need to meet to revise the IEP as appropriate.
Superintendents will want to make their elementary school principals and teachers aware of this new law and make sure that a form is developed for principals to use when parents decide to go forward with the request.
Starting in August, all public schools will be required to start the school day with 1-2 minutes of silence. The law compels principals to require all 1st period teachers to set aside at least one minute, but not more than two, for a moment of silence. Students cannot interfere with other students’ participation in the moment of silence, and teachers may not suggest how a student might wish to use this daily moment. However, each 1st period teacher “shall” encourage parents and guardians to talk about the moment of silence with their kids and make suggestions on how to use it.
While there were some concerns about teachers having to monitor students to prevent interference or principals having to discipline teachers who do not enforce the moment of silence, the biggest question for Superintendents today is whether this 1-2 minutes per day will affect your instructional hours or your overall calendar. If your current schedule gets you to exactly 900 hours or not much more, you may need to adjust your daily schedule to account for the lost 180-360 minutes per year. You may also need to recalculate any flex days or hurricane days built into your calendar.
Use of Facilities Agreements – HB 259
House Bill 259, which is entitled “Safety of Religious Institutions,” should alarm every property owner in the State, no matter how they feel about firearms. Under current law, it is illegal to possess a firearm on any school property, even if the person has a permit to carry a concealed firearm. There is no blanket prohibition against carrying a concealed firearm on a religious institution’s property, but many religious institutions also have a school on site, which thus made it illegal to carry a concealed weapon on church property, even on the weekend or other times outside of school hours.
However, rather than simply fix the law to allow religious institutions that own the land to permit concealed weapons on their property outside school hours, the Legislature included religious institutions that lease property from someone else. Many churches and other religious institutions lease auditoriums, multi-purpose rooms, or other parts of public schools for weekend services. This new law will allow the lessee, not the landlord, to make the ultimate decision about allowing concealed firearms on campus. Multiple times, the bill sponsors said that this new law does not interfere with a landlord’s contract rights, but there is nothing to help a landlord who currently has a multi-year lease. “Notwithstanding any other law, . . . a person licensed under this section may carry a concealed weapon or firearm on property owned, rented, leased, borrowed, or lawfully used by a . . . religious institution.” The religious institution can decide whether or not it wants to allow concealed weapons, but the legislators who passed this bill did not care what the property owner might want, even if that property owner was a public school.
If you have not done so already, please make it a priority to review your use of facilities agreements and all existing rental or lease agreements you might have in the district. Every new agreement should include a provision that firearms are not permitted on school board property at any time (other than law enforcement officers, guardians, and other authorized personnel) and that any lessee that attempts to allow concealed weapons will have their lease terminated immediately. Also, do not forget that anyone bringing a firearm to a school campus at any time is a School Environmental Safety Incident Report (SESIR) offense and needs to be reported even if the person with the firearm is not a student or in any way affiliated with the school. The bill takes effect immediately upon the Governor’s signature, so time is of the essence.
School Safety – SB 590 contacting parents
Within Senate Bill 590, which became this year’s school safety bill, there are a couple of provisions that require immediate attention.
First, there are two new requirements for a district’s student code of conduct, which many districts will soon start or are already in the process of adopting. Every code of conduct will need to include “Criteria for recommending to law enforcement that a student who commits a criminal offense be allowed to participate in a civil citation or similar prearrest diversion program as an alternative to expulsion or arrest. All civil citation or similar prearrest diversion programs must comply with s. 985.12.” The codes will also need to include “Criteria for assigning a student who commits a petty act of misconduct, as defined by the district school board pursuant to s. 1006.13(2)(c), to a school-based intervention program. If a student’s assignment is based on a noncriminal offense, the student’s participation in a school-based intervention program may not be entered into the Juvenile Justice Information System Prevention Web.”
The bill also includes several requirements related to the involuntary commitment (Baker Act) of children from school or school-sponsored activities. The biggest requirement is that principals must attempt to contact a parent or guardian before a student can be removed from campus under the Baker Act. Districts will want to make sure that principals are aware of this requirement before school starts in August, and it would be wise to remind parents and guardians that we cannot contact them in an emergency if they do not update their contact information with the school as soon as there is a change. Principals will need to try to call, text, and email parents and emergency contacts, and they will need to document their efforts. This will not require much work if every parent has a current phone number on file, but there are a shocking number of parents who do not keep their information up to date. Additionally, this pre-notice requirement (unless the principal determines that delaying the Baker Act process to contact the parent will jeopardize the health and safety of the student) needs to be included in the district’s school health services program adopted cooperatively with the local department of health.
Next, for those districts that employ their own police officers as school safety officers, beginning July 1st, the law will require, “School safety officers must complete mental health crisis intervention training using a curriculum developed by a national organization with expertise in mental health crisis intervention. The training shall improve officers’ knowledge and skills as first responders to incidents involving students with emotional disturbance or mental illness, including de-escalation skills to ensure student and officer safety.” Districts will want to look into obtaining this training for their officers before the start of school, if possible.
Finally, for those districts that issue student identification cards, all student identification cards for grades 6-12 must include phone and text numbers for crisis and suicide prevention hotlines. This takes effect in the upcoming year: “Beginning with the 2021-2022 school year, any student identification card issued by a public school to students in grades 6 through 12 must include the telephone numbers for national or statewide crisis and suicide hotlines and text lines.”
Given the amount of time it takes to adopt policies, print thousands of identification cards, and train staff, waiting until July 1st or whenever these bills are signed into law may be too late.
FADSS staff will continue to review the recently-passed legislation for other issues that may require more immediate action at the district level in order to comply with any new mandates.