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Education Legislation Update: Passed, Pending, and What You Need to Know

Change is good… or is it?  The following summaries describe passed and pending education legislation that could affect your District this upcoming 2016-2017 school year.

Passed education legislation:

An amendment to Pennsylvania’s Anti-hazing Law now makes the law applicable to public and private secondary schools, as well as to student organizations unaffiliated with those schools, such as private athletic leagues.  Formerly only applicable to institutions of higher education, the law now requires the governing boards of secondary schools to adopt written anti-hazing policies prohibiting students, and others associated with the school, from engaging in hazing activities, both on and off school campus.  All athletic coaches must be provided a copy of District anti-hazing policies, which must also be posted on the District’s website.  Secondary schools must establish a method for enforcing these policies and adopt appropriate penalties, which can range anywhere from fines to expulsion.  Any penalties imposed by the District under this amendment are in addition to those associated with any concurrent criminal violations implicated through an individual’s hazing actions, still a misdemeanor of the third degree.  Districts may prevent organizations that engage in hazing from being permitted to operate on school property.  After passing in both the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and the Senate by large margins, Anti-hazing Law amendments were signed into law on May 24, 2016, by Governor Wolf and take effect on July 23, 2016.

Public School Web Accountability and Transparency (SchoolWATCH) Act amends the Public School Code of 1949.  Though the amendment has many different facets, most important is the establishment of mandatory posting requirements relating to schools’ financial information.  Within ninety (90) days of this amendment being passed into law and by May 31 of each year thereafter, the Department of Education must post a great deal of information for each public school entity on its publicly accessible Internet website, including: Total expenditures in “Instructional,” “Support services,” “Noninstructional,” “Facilities acquisition and construction,” and Other financing use” categories; Per-student expenditures based on both instructional expenditures and total expenditures; Per-student charter school tuition rates for regular education and special education students; Average daily membership; Market value/personal income aid ratio; Average teacher salary in the public school entity; Total revenues federal, state, local and other resources and General fund balances.  For access to any union contract, the Department of Education must instruct the public to contact the public school entity. Districts do not have to provide the Department of Education with any additional information, data, or reports that they are not already obligated to provide.  After passing in both the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and the Senate by large margins, SchoolWATCH Act/amendment to the Public School Code of 1949 was signed into law on July 13, 2016, by Governor Wolf.

Pending education legislation:

The National Motto Display Act, if signed into law, would grant the governing Board of each of Pennsylvania’s public school districts the ability to display “In God We Trust” wherever the Board desires to place the phrase, identifying prominently displayed “mounted plaques” or “artwork from student contests” as two of the ways to exhibit the United States’ national motto.   This Act extends to vocational-technical schools, intermediate units, charter schools, regional charter schools, and cyber charter schools.  Boards are not under any obligation to place “In God We Trust” anywhere in, on, or around their buildings, as this Act is a discretionary grant of power.   The National Motto Display Act overwhelmingly passed in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives after several minor amendments; it is now in the Pennsylvania Senate where it has been “laid on the table.”  The law would take effect sixty (60) days after its passage.

The Administration of Epinephrine Auto-injectors by School Bus Drivers may be covered by the Good Samaritan civil immunity law, if amendments are passed that would revise 24 § 14-1414.3. School bus drivers would be covered if, when they administer epi-pens to students, they comply with their employer’s and District’s policies, in addition to completing the necessary training established by the Department of Health.  This amendment unanimously passed the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and is now in the Pennsylvania Senate where it is currently in the Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations Committee.  This amendment would take effect sixty (60) days after becoming law.

For questions about passed or pending education legislation, please contact Stock and Leader’s School Law Group.

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