Feb. 17 Wrap-up

Both the Senate and the House Education Committees met today.

In the Senate, SB175, Senator Thatcher’s School Safety and Crisis Line was discussed and voted out of committee unanimously.  Last year, Senator Thatcher’s School Safety Tip Line bill set up the School Safety Tip Line Commission to find a provider network that could provide 24-7 crises hotline services which employed social workers as operators, and to estimate the cost of such a service.  This year’s bill would establish that hotline through the University Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI).  The hotline would receive anonymous calls regarding incidents of bullying and suicide situations.  The committee heard testimony that reports from teens skyrocket when they can call anonymously.  One committee member raised the question of whether a teacher can direct a student to call a hotline or whether a school can call a social worker instead of a parent.  Someone responded that Eliason ran a bill last year that would allow that.  Eliason’s bill, Suicide Prevention Revisions, SB23 from 2014, made some changes to the Utah FERPA rules governing the kinds of information a school employee can solicit from a student; the bill, now law, allows a school employee, volunteer or SRO to ask a student questions regarding the student’s suicidal thoughts, physically self-harming behavior, or thoughts of harming others for the purpose of referring the student to appropriate prevention services AND informing the student’s parents or legal guardian.  This begs the question of whether this provision from SB23 is enough to allow a school employee to direct a student to call a hotline or call the hotline himself rather than call a parent.  Other statutory language requires school employees to notify to parents without delay if a situation exists that presents a serious threat to the well-being of a student, and another law requires schools to notify parents of any bullying and/or suicide incident.  So CAN a school employee direct a student to the hotline, or call the hotline directly rather than notify parents?

Senator Osmond’s Public School Dropout Recovery bill, SB116, Sub 1 also received much discussion in the Senate committee.  This bill requires LEAs to put aside 30% of a WPU–or $892–for every dropout student, to be used for recovery and recruitment programs to get these kids back to school.  If the student does return to school even on a minimal, part-time basis, the LEA gets to count the student for 50% of an ADM.  Osmond referred to this strategy for focusing on dropout recovery as a “carrot and a stick” approach: give LEAs a carrot in the 50% ADM even if the student is only taking 1 class, but also use a stick in making LEAs put aside 30% of that WPU.  Thirty percent of a WPU is one thing when the LEA is receiving that WPU, but by the time the LEA gets WPU funds after a student has dropped out, that student is not bringing in any WPU funds so putting aside $892/per non-WPU’d dropout may be a tall order, even with the “carrot” in 50% ADM down the road.

The House Committee was a full house as the topic of standardized testing took center stage.  Rep. Poulson’s House Concurrent Resolution 007 urges USBE to study methods and protocols that would minimize testing and allow teachers to integration assessment throughout the curriculum.  The resolution received overwhelming support, mostly from teachers who told horror stories of 10 years olds sitting for 10 hours to take a test, of one elementary student running out of the classroom and hiding so he wouldn’t have to take the test, and of other students placing bets on who could finish faster without concern for their results.  One teacher choked back tears as she explained how the myriad of tests have impacted her personally.  Others testified that there is a need for tracking student growth and imposing a certain accountability on our teachers, but the emotional pleas to the committee to support the resolution were ultimately the loudest voices in the room.  The resolution passed in a 9-1 vote.

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