By LIBBY CLUETT
As schools prepare to open their doors to students Monday, there are a few things area students, staff and parents might want to note, largely based on laws passed in the 83rd Texas Legislature.
At Mineral Wells ISD’s regular August school board meeting, Assistant Superintendent Jay Walsworth outlined revisions to the student and employee handbooks. The following are a few changes he said are in store.
There are several situations in which students are now allowed exemptions to compulsory attendance and for which, with the proper documentation, schools will not be penalized on their average daily attendance, or ADA. These instances include the following:
• Students of military families will now have more flexibility regarding some district and state requirements, based on Texas being a member of the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children. Also, Senate Bill 260 counts absences related to parent deployment as “days of attendance” for purposes of the district’s ADA funding. However, the law allows just five such absences per year and the bill describes the instances when students will be excused.
• Students can be exempt from classes if they have a therapy or mental-health appointment, including absences for recognized services for students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. When the student arrives back at school, she or he must have a note from the health-care provider.
• Attendance exemptions also apply if a student in state conservatorship has a court-ordered family visitation or any other court-ordered activity, if it’s not practical to schedule the activity outside school hours.
• State law also allows exemptions to compulsory attendance requirements for several other types of absences if the student makes up all the work, including missing school for religious holy days or activities related to obtaining United States citizenship.
• Students can also serve as an early-voting election clerk, according to SB 553, for up to two days per school year.
• The state allows attendance exemptions for students who have children. Per House Bill 455, a student who is a parent can be exempt for a documented health-care appointment for their child, but the student must make up the work and must return to school with a note from the provider.
After much debate on the state’s end-of-course, or EOC, mandates, HB 5 created the following changes:
• The bill clarifies that the 90-percent attendance requirement applies to all students, including those in elementary grades.
• HB 5 prohibits districts from using end-of-course, or EOC, performance in class-rank calculations.
• The bill also removed the controversial 15-percent grade requirement, associated with the state’s EOC assessments.
• Additionally, HB 5 requires that commissioner rules be adopted by Oct. 1 to identify courses or other assessments that satisfy EOC requirements.
• The bill will require personal graduation plans for all high school students, beginning in the 2014-15 school year.
Other new rules
There are more new laws effecting students this year.
• The Legislature clarified that electronic cigarettes are prohibited on campuses.
• Dress-code changes for students at Travis Elementary, Mineral Wells Junior High and Mineral Wells High School include: shorts and skirts must be at fingertip length; fauxhawks must be no taller than 3 inches; some hair designs are allowed with restrictions; and trimmed beards are now allowed. The statement regarding facial hair now reads, “Mustaches and beards must be neatly trimmed.”
• Per SB 152, employees are now required to make a report if they have cause to believe that an adult was a victim of abuse or neglect as a child and they determine, in good faith, that the disclosure of the information is necessary to protect the health and safety of a child or disabled person.
• House Bill 489 revised state law to better align with federal law regarding service animals.
• Initial special education evaluations must be completed within 45 school days, with certain exceptions, per SB 816, which goes into effect Sept. 1.
• As a result of HB 525, districts will collect data on military-connected students through the Public Education Information Management System.
• School peace officers or attendance officers are responsible for applying truancy-prevention measures before filing truancy complaints to the court. The school must certify that these truancy-prevention measures were applied and failed to meaningfully address the student’s school attendance. In addition, the school must specify whether the student is eligible for or receives special-education services. Provisions in SB 393 now require a court to dismiss a complaint or referral if these requirements are not fulfilled.
• HB 1018 requires each School Health Advisory Committee, also known as SHAC, to establish a physical activity and fitness planning subcommittee to consider issues and make policy recommendations relating to improving students’ physical activity and fitness.
• HB 1501 requires that elementary and secondary schools observe a minute of silence each year in which Sept. 11 falls on a regular school day. Before this observance, the instructor must make a statement of reference to the memory of individuals who died Sept. 11, 2001.
• HB 1244 passed to give the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board the authority to develop a single Texas Success Initiative, or TSI, with standard “cut-off” scores. This assessment will be required beginning this fall.