10 Tennessee’s education laws that came into effect on July 1 were originally published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Subscribe to their newsletters here: Chalkbeat.org/pages/newsletters
Tennessee aims to shed remnants of politically sensitive core academic standards, while educating students and their parents about their immunization exemption rights, under dozens of new state laws that came into effect on July 1 .
Public education is still a favorite topic of state lawmakers, who introduced nearly 400 bills related to K-12 schools this year. More than 40 of these have become laws, including high-profile measures to establish summer and after-school learning programs and restrict how race and racism are taught.
But other laws that haven’t necessarily made headlines will also affect students and educators when they come into effect with the state’s new fiscal year.
Here are 10 things that should be in place in time for the new school year:
Common base materials
Tennessee officially dropped out of Common Core in 2015 and switched in 2017 to revised academic standards in English and math that were touted as homegrown. But a new law now officially bans textbooks or teaching materials created to align exclusively with the core curriculum – or marketed as such.
State funds could be withheld in any district in which a teacher intentionally violates the ban. Republican sponsors have said the intention is to fill a gap in cases where teachers could still use common base materials. However, some publishers are concerned about a massive purge of high-quality educational material, simply because of the way it has been marketed.
Tennessee adopted Common Core in 2010 as part of a bipartisan collaboration led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Schools Officers. But former Gov. Bill Haslam ordered a review in 2014 when the standards became embroiled in political controversy over federal overshoot charges, in part because of incentives offered by the Obama administration to states that adopted them.
Threats of mass violence
Judges will have new authority to order a psychological assessment when a student credibly threatens to commit an act of mass violence on school property or during a school-related activity.
The previous law limited the ability of the court to retain a student for such an assessment, except in the case of a felony charge. Law enforcement officials in Bradley County searched for the new tool to assess the credibility of threats to harm the student or others.
Threats could be communicated in a variety of ways including verbally or through social media, graffiti and diagrams.
Discipline of students
Teachers and school staff will now enjoy general immunity from civil suit when they use “reasonable force” against students to maintain order.
School employees, including principals and bus drivers, are already immune from criminal liability when they use reasonable force to correct or restrain students so that they do not injure themselves do not or hurt other students. But the sponsors of the new law said civil protection is also needed so that staff members are not tempted to pass up on student wrongdoing for fear of being brought to justice.
Democrats in the GOP-controlled legislature opposed the legislation, fearing the change would prompt physical intervention.
The law specifies that force cannot reach the level of gross negligence, willful injury or willful misconduct. It also does not allow corporal punishment.
Bleeding control kits
Schools have the power to obtain potentially life-saving supplies and training to control bleeding in an emergency as part of Tennessee’s new “stop the bleeding” program.
By law, districts are allowed – but not required – to equip their schools with bleeding control kits that include a tourniquet and pressure bandages. School staff can also be trained on how to control bleeding, which essentially allows them to act as first responders in the event of an accidental injury or uncontrolled bleeding incident, with limited liability.
Supporters say the law will be particularly useful for rural areas where access to health care is limited, although no additional funding has been provided for by the law.
Any information shared with students or parents on the state’s immunization requirements for communicable diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella must now also include information on exemptions.
The state usually requires proof of the vaccinations required to attend a public school, preschool, kindergarten, preschool, or day care center. But a parent or guardian can request religious or medical exemptions.
The law also applies to higher education institutions.
Students with special needs
Only emergency situations can lead to the isolation or placement of a student with special needs in physical restraint as part of revisions to a 2008 law.
A school employee who has used seclusion or restraint should contact school officials immediately afterwards for review and clearance. The student’s parent or guardian must then be notified the same day.
The changes are part of updates to legislation that aims to protect students with disabilities from unreasonable, dangerous or unwarranted uses of seclusion and restraint.
Transparency of manuals
Tennesséens must have more access to teaching materials in public schools under the law on transparency of textbooks.
The new law requires publishers of state-approved textbooks or educational materials to provide an online link to find these resources. Each district should either post this link on its website or direct visitors to a state website where textbooks and materials are accessible.
Tennessee is offering new flexibility to school districts to help existing teachers get new endorsements without having to re-enroll in traditional teacher education programs.
The aim is to help schools recruit and retain teachers in the subjects they need.
The legislation requires the state Board of Education to create another avenue for teachers to receive training and earn additional endorsements as part of their certification. The teacher still has to pass an assessment to ensure that he has the required knowledge about the content, regardless of the length of his teaching.
Learning in high school
Every high school in Tennessee will soon have a point of contact for learning opportunities as part of Governor Bill Lee’s 2019 initiative to bridge the state’s skills gap.
A new law aims to ensure that high school students can take advantage of TN Apprenticeship, which coordinates with seven state agencies to increase the number of available apprenticeships. Each high school should identify a person to connect students and employers about hands-on workforce training and opportunities.
Definition of a teacher
Tennessee lawmakers have been trying for years to find a way to ensure that state-funded increases to teacher salaries actually reach the pockets of teachers in the classroom.
A new law will not guarantee that this will happen, but supporters believe it is a step in that direction.
When distributing state-funded increases to teacher salaries, a teacher will be defined as someone who holds a state-issued teaching license and who spends 50% or more of their time instructing students.
Because thousands of teaching positions are funded locally and not through Tennessee’s education funding formula, state officials recognize that the new definition will not immediately guarantee every teacher a raise when the state allocate more for this purpose.
Chalkbeat is a non-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.