A lot of the recent focus at the State Capitol has been on the budgeting process, but just as important is the normal business of crafting state policy through bills and resolutions. Most legislative items are in their very early stages and still subject to amendments and major changes, so OICA will refrain from taking “for” or “against” positions at this time. With that in mind, here are some bills that we are following with interest and will be updating our supporters on as they advance (or fail to advance) in the 2018 legislative session:
SB 1287 and SB 991 both deal with school safety and are particularly relevant in light of the tragic school shooting that occurred in Florida last week. The bill, by Sen. Jason Smalley, R-Stroud, seeks to ensure that every public school establishes a Safe School Committee which would meet at least four times a year. The committee must focus on increasing school safety and cannot be combined with other committees (such as a Health and Fitness Committee). SB 991, by Sen. Allison Ikley-Freeman, D-Tulsa, removes language allowing firearms on school campuses, even if they are possessed by designated school employees who have received state-certified training and licensure.
HB3313, by Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon, modifies the membership of the Dyslexia and Education Task Force to include a member who is a speech-language pathologist appointed by the Speaker of the House. Another issue of concern for speech pathologists is the restoration of the bonus previously (but no longer) awarded to them by the National Board-Certified Teacher (NBCT) program. Several legislators, including Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman; Sen. JJ Dossett, D-Owasso; and Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman, have filed bills regarding the NBCT but no action has yet been taken.
HB2526, by Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, prohibits the use of “seclusion rooms” – where students are disciplined by confining them alone in a small room – on students with significant cognitive disabilities.
SB 1435, by Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee allows districts to suspend students of all grades for committing assault by lowering the current threshold from sixth grade and above. The legislation also allows school boards to determine the length of time for the suspension, removing prior language which limited that punishment to the current semester and the next semester. This could ultimately allow for school expulsion for the first time in years. This is a request bill from the Association of Professional Oklahoma Educators and I am told the bill is still under construction, so changes might occur.
Regarding suspension, OICA opposed a less-strict bill, SB 81, last year. We instead support counseling services for the student, appropriate funding to support special needs situations and a review by trained professionals regarding the safety of the child by some potential threat outside the school which might have caused the unruly behavior. Currently, under Oklahoma law, there is also no appeal beyond the local school board regarding a student suspension and the definition of assault is very vague, so we feel many changes are needed regarding this topic and appropriate due process should be allowed for the student.
OICA will have a bill tracking system, listing all relevant legislation to child well-being, up on our website (OICA.org) very soon. We encourage you to regularly check the progress of these bills.
Please engage your legislators regarding bills working through the system and ask lawmakers to focus on child well-being. With your help, working together we will make 2018 the Year of the Child in Oklahoma!
By Joe Dorman, OICA CEO