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New laws affect schools

As schools in Oregon opened their doors for the new school year this week they had to factor in more than 100 laws passed by the Oregon legislature in 2013 that affect school districts in some way.

“This is the first time I’ve seen, at the end, things so fast and furious and so quick,” North Wasco County School District 21 Superintendent Candy Armstrong said. “So many of those bills were changed so quickly at the end and passed that it’s going to take a while to sort them all out.”

She said there are always a substantial number of education-related bills passed in a year, but in the last couple of years more of the bills are changes that will involve a significant amount of work on the part of school districts.

For example, Senate Bill 290, passed into law in 2011, takes effect this year. The law sets requirements for teacher evaluations and classroom observations, and Armstrong said one of her principals estimated they will spend three times as much time evaluating the teachers at their school.

“This is going to really stretch our administrators. So much more is expected. Before you could say, ‘They’re a senior teacher so I don’t have to do as much,’” Armstrong said.

She said she is also worried about getting everything done in time for the transition to Community-Based Coordinators of Early Learning, known as hubs, which are replacing the Commission on Children and Families in the role of coordinating early childhood services.

Many of the education-related bills are small technical changes or appropriations of funds. Other bills established various education-related committees such as the Task Force on High School and Transition Success for Students with Disabilities. But some bills will change the way schools do business, and a few are listed below:

HB 3000: Under HB 3000 districts are required to make sure public school students under the age of eight have a vision screening or eye examination before starting school. It also states that schools should do what they can to make sure students have regular vision screenings through elementary and middle school.

Armstrong said the Lions Club has done free vision screenings at the elementary schools in previous years and the district will work with the service organization and other local partners to make sure it complies with the new law.

HB 3264: House Bill 3264 establishes a pilot program for assisting students with disabilities to transition into life after high school. The bill appropriates money to the Department of Education for the program, which will require school districts to implement strategies for helping students with disabilities secure jobs, secondary education or access to support services after they leave high school.

Armstrong said the bill is one of the ones passed near the end that she has not had time to study in depth yet. But she said the district already has a youth transition coordinator to help with that very issue and any support the state could provide would be a good thing.

“We already do some of that. I’m not sure what else the program will include, but whatever it can do to enhance our efforts will be appreciated because it [helping disabled students transition from high school] is a very big deal,” she said.

HB 2749: Under HB 2749, school districts are required to allow certain medications, namely those for severe allergic reactions or asthma attacks, to be kept in a student’s classroom if storing those medications in another part of the school would put the student in danger.

HB 2192: House Bill 2192 establishes a variety of new requirements for school policies related to discipline, suspension and expulsion. It gives superintendents discretion in previously “zero tolerance” situations and states that students should not be suspended from school for more than 10 days at a time.

Armstrong said she is pleased that the bill relaxes the zero tolerance policies, which are often “way over the top.” Under current law, students in Oregon have been expelled from school for incidents like forgetting that they had left a Swiss Army knife in their pocket after using it as a tool at home. “I appreciate that bill going through because you really do need to have the discretion to tailor it to individual students and circumstances,” she said.

HB 2730: House Bill 2730 directs the Department of Education to reimburse school districts or other agencies for every breakfast served as part of a summer meal program.

Armstrong said the district has been discussing ways to serve more students free lunch through their summer meal program and if there was enough participation she would be interested in serving free breakfasts too.

HB 3014: House Bill 3014 requires that a United States flag be displayed in every classroom. Originally the bill also required time to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning but that requirement was taken out in the final version.

SB 721: Senate Bill 721 extends requirements for responding to concussions to non-school athletic teams. Students who participate in club sports will now be included in prohibitions against playing while exhibiting symptoms of a concussion and other requirements meant to protect students against brain damage.

HB 2789: House Bill 2789 lays out requirements for schools to conduct drills for fire, earthquakes and “safety threats” such as an active shooter. At least 30 minutes each month must be spent instructing students on the proper protocol for those emergencies. Coastal schools must also conduct regular tsunami drills.

Armstrong said the district already holds safety drills multiple times a year and will make sure that it complies with the exact number required by the new law. “Believe it or not, we practice those drills at the district offices,” she said. “We practice so it becomes an automatic response in a real emergency.”

HB 2654: The requirements in House Bill 2654 apply to all employers, not just school districts. The bill prohibits employers from requesting or requiring an employee or applicant to allow access to their social media sites.

In practice, it means that a principal can’t require a teacher to hand over their Twitter password or accept a friend request on Facebook.

HB 3342: House Bill 3342 prohibits public employers, such as school districts, from “assisting, promoting or deterring” union organizing and participation in existing unions. The bill also prohibits public funds from being used to assist in deterring employees from joining a union.

SB 1: Senate Bill requires all employers to provide time off (either paid or unpaid) on Veterans Day to any employee who is a veteran.

Armstrong said the district will work to comply with the laws listed above and all others passed during the 2013 legislative session as quickly as possible. She said there are plenty of ambiguities in the new batch of laws but organizations like the Oregon School Boards Association will help the schools navigate the new laws.

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