Changes to teacher sick leave, yoga, literacy efforts coming to Alabama schools –

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Lawmakers made a few more changes to the K-12 education world on the final day of the legislative session.
Those changes affect teachers and students in Alabama’s public schools beginning with the upcoming school year. Gov. Kay Ivey will have the final say, signing the bills or not.
What passed on the final day of the session, May 19:
Alabama Literacy Act retention delay (SB94)
Lawmakers approved delaying a provision in the Literacy Act that would require third graders to repeat the grade if they aren’t reading on grade level at the end of the school year. The retention provision, which was supposed to go into effect during the 2021-22 school year has now been pushed back until the 2023-24 school year.
Proponents of the delay said it’s harmful to kids to hold them responsible for this difficult school year and that teachers haven’t been able to be properly trained in the science of reading due to the pandemic.
Opponents said delaying the retention provision would send the wrong message and reduce the urgency to get young children reading on grade level.
The most recent reading test results, from the 2018-19 school year, show barely half of third graders in the state reaching proficiency. For Black students, poor students and students with disabilities, proficiency rates are even lower.
All other provisions of the Literacy Act are still intact, meaning schools must still be notifying parents if their child isn’t reading on grade level, summer camps to improve reading must still be offered, and teachers must keep getting trained in the science of reading.
The bill is on Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk.
Teacher sick leave changes (HB93)
This bill allows teachers with Tier II retirement benefits to save up their sick leave, accruing it year to year as long as they are teaching, rather than being forced to use it or lose it during each school year. Proponents said the change was needed because schools were using more substitutes because teachers didn’t want to lose their sick leave.
It also raises teachers’ contributions to their retirement benefits from 6% to 6.2% (cutting into that 2% raise they just received).
Teachers hired in the year 2013 and following receive Tier II retirement benefits, a change lawmakers made due to concerns about unfunded pensions for teachers. Changes to benefits and sick leave policies hurt teacher recruitment efforts, according to state education officials, and contribute to a teacher shortage in certain geographic and subject areas.
Yoga ban is lifted (HB246)
Schools can now offer students yoga, as long as they use only English names to describe the poses and activities of the exercise. And guided imagery (described as visualization, visual imagery, guided imagery or guided fantasy to induce or deepen hypnosis or mediation and following a progressive relaxation technique) is expressly prohibited.
Also, schools must send permission slips, using language required in the law, to a child’s parents before allowing a student to participate in yoga:
“I am informed that my child (name of child) will participate in yoga instruction at the school named above. I understand that yoga is part of the Hinduism religion. I give my child permission to participate in yoga instruction in school.”
Yoga has been banned in public schools since 1993 when the state Board of Education prohibited it. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, told lawmakers schools are doing yoga anyway, and calling it by a different name. The Senate added a lot of language to the bill, which Gray called “foolish,” but he said he’d take the win and try to change the language in future legislative sessions.
Namaste, y’all. (Except don’t say namaste in a public school if you’re doing yoga, please.)
Related: Lawmakers approve bill to allow yoga in Alabama public schools
Plans for students who have seizures (HB76)
This bill, called the Seizure Safe Schools Act, requires the creation of a seizure management plan as part of the individual health care plan for students who have had seizures. It also allows for nonmedical, but specially trained, school personnel to administer medication to students with seizures. Becomes effective at the start of the 2022-23 school year.
School employees prohibited from soliciting obscene material from students (HB240)
School employees are already prohibited from distributing or transmitting “obscene materials,” previously defined in law, considered a Class A misdemeanor. This bill adds the Class A misdemeanor offense of soliciting a student to transmit obscene matter.
What didn’t pass (but could have, even on the final day of the session):
State Seal of Biliteracy (HB407)
This bill would have added an endorsement to a high school diploma if the graduating senior had shown proficiency in a language in English and at least one other world language. Approved by the House and by a Senate committee, it died on the Senate floor without being considered.
Building Exceptional School Board Team Act (SB170)
This bill would have prohibited someone from serving on a local board of education if they had been previously removed from a board for conduct found to be neglect of duty or willful misconduct by the State Board of Education. In its original form, it would have required additional training and would have required a local board of education member to have attended at least two board of education meetings prior to becoming a board member. The Senate stripped those additional requirements before sending it to the House.
Approved by the Senate and by a House committee, it died on the floor of the House without being considered.
Mandatory first-grade readiness (HB208)
This bill would have required students entering first grade who did not attend a formal kindergarten program to have proven they were ready for first grade. It did not require children to attend kindergarten or change the mandatory ages for Alabama children to attend school, which is currently ages 6 to 17.
The bill was approved by the House and a Senate education committee before dying on the Senate floor without being considered.
Related: Alabama lawmaker proposes mandatory kindergarten
Provision of mental health supports for at-risk students (SB92)
This bill would have required the Alabama State Department of Education to develop a comprehensive program to address mental health needs of students who are considered “at-risk for developing inadequate social-behavioral skills, such as ADHD or anger management issues.” It included provisions for parent education programs as well as support for teachers to minimize disruptions from struggling students.
The Senate approved the bill and a House committee approved a substitute for the bill. The bill died on the House floor without being considered.
The next legislative session starts in January.
Related: Alabama lawmakers approve boost in education budget
Related: Here are changes coming to Alabama schools as legislators consider final bills
Related: Bills on gambling, transgender treatments for minors dead as session comes to end
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