In its 2019 regular and special sessions, the General Assembly made a number of changes in the statutes that affect public education in Connecticut. This summary is intended to give you a brief overview of some of the more significant changes that were made this year in the area of education. Links to the new legislation are provided in the electronic version of this publication located at https://bit.ly/2MFndHP. In addition, for more information about new legislation affecting employers in general, please see our Employment Legislation Summary at: https://bit.ly/2MP6t0D.
STATUTORY CHANGES AFFECTING STUDENTS:
Access to Education by Homeless Students
Public Act 19-179 increases protections afforded to homeless students and makes several changes to current laws concerning the appeal process afforded to school-age homeless students who are denied access to school accommodations to attend a local or regional public school.
The McKinney-Vento Act requires that homeless children and youth be provided with educational services that are comparable to those provided to the other students enrolled in the same school, including transportation services. Conn. Gen. Stat. §10-186 currently requires boards to notify a parent, guardian, emancipated minor or pupil 18 years of age or older of the right to request a hearing whenever a board denies access to school accommodations, including on the basis of residency. Effective July 1, 2019, Section 1 of the Act adds the term "unaccompanied youth" (defined by federal law as "a homeless child or youth not in the physical custody of a parent or guardian") to the list of parties entitled to all of the rights relating to school accommodation hearing procedures, including, for example, a right to request a hearing, and a right to appeal an adverse decision.
Regarding such hearings, Section 1 of the Act modifies the burden of proof in residency hearings where the child claims to be homeless. Generally, a party denied access to school accommodations based on residency has the burden of proof and must establish residency by a preponderance of the evidence (i.e., it is more likely than not). Effective July 1, 2019, however, when "the party denied schooling is claiming that he or she is a homeless child or youth," the board will have the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the student is not homeless in accordance with McKinney-Vento.
In addition, in the event a board of education (or impartial hearing officer) determines that a homeless child or youth is not entitled to school accommodations in the district, Section 1 of the Act also permits such homeless child or youth to remain in the district or be immediately enrolled in the school selected by the student in the school district in accordance with federal law that permits a student to maintain enrollment pending final resolution of the dispute, including all available appeals. Additionally, boards will need to (1) provide such student or the parent or guardian a written explanation of the reasons for the denial that is in a manner and form understandable to them, (2) provide information regarding the right to appeal the decision of the denial of accommodations and (3) refer such student, parent or guardian to the district's homeless liaison. Moreover, a new provision requires that any homeless child or youth appealing a denial of school accommodations on the basis of residency be entitled to continue to attend school in the school district during the pendency of all available appeals, rather than just through an appeal at the State Board of Education ("State Board") level.
Section 2 of the Act additionally amends Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-253 to reiterate that when a board of education denies a homeless child or youth school accommodations on the basis of residency, the homeless child or youth is entitled to a residency hearing pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-186.
Sale and Use of Cigarettes, Tobacco Products and E-Cigarettes
Effective October 1, 2019, Public Act 19-13 makes significant changes to current law regarding the sale, use and distribution of cigarettes, other tobacco products and e-cigarettes. Most critically, it raises the legal age to purchase such products from eighteen to twenty-one and amends Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 19a342 and 19a-342a to prohibit smoking and the use of e-cigarettes within school buildings or on school property at all times, rather than only within a building while school is in session or during student activities. (Sections 17 and 18).
Application of Sunscreen Before Outdoor Activities
Currently, the law does not specifically address the use of sunscreen in school. Consequently, its application is generally subject to the same procedures as over-the-counter medication, which requires a written order from an authorized health care provider and written authorization from the student's parent or guardian for administration in school. Public Act 19-60 provides that effective July 1, 2019, any student who is six years of age or older may possess and self-apply over-the-counter sunscreen while in school prior to engaging in any outdoor activity, if a student's parent or guardian submits a written authorization to the school nurse. The Act further permits boards of education to adopt policies and procedures to implement this new provision, and a student's self-application of sunscreen in school must be in accordance with such policies and procedures.
Physical Exercise and Undirected Play
In 2012, the legislature established a minimum requirement of 20 minutes daily physical exercise for students in grades K-5.
The following year, this requirement expanded from grades K-5 to all students enrolled in elementary school, and boards of education were required to develop a policy regarding school employees preventing a student from participating in the entire time devoted to physical exercise as a form of discipline.
This year, effective July 1, 2019 through Public Act 19-173, the legislature clarified the authority of local and regional boards to include additional time—beyond the 20 minutes required for physical exercise—devoted to undirected play during the regular school day in elementary schools. Consistent with prior legislative action, the Act further requires that boards of education revise their policies by October 1, 2019 to address school employees preventing a student from participating in the entire time devoted to physical exercise or undirected play as a form of discipline.
Section 2 of the Act also establishes a task force to study the feasibility of including time devoted to undirected play during the regular school day in elementary schools and to report its findings to the Education Committee by January 1, 2020.
Special Education Transition Services for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq.) requires that the first IEP in effect when a child with a disability turns sixteen years of age (or earlier, when appropriate) include (1) appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age-appropriate transition assessments related to training, education employment and where appropriate, independent living skills; and (2) the transition services, including courses of study, needed to assist the child in reaching those goals. 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A)(i)(VIII). Public Act 19-49, effective July 1, 2019, requires IEPs for students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder to contain such postsecondary goals and transition services beginning no later than the date on which the IEP takes effect for any such student who is at least fourteen years old. The Act requires such students' IEPs to be updated annually thereafter. Finally, the Act clarifies that despite the obligation for boards of education to begin transition services for students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at age fourteen, the Act does not require the Department of Rehabilitation Services to lower the age of transitional services for children with disabilities from sixteen to fourteen.
Section 9 of Public Act 19-91, effective July 1, 2019, narrows the authority of boards of education to expel students in grades three through twelve, in a board's discretion, for conduct on school grounds or at a school-sponsored activity to situations in which the conduct violates a publicized policy of such board and is seriously disruptive of the educational process, or endangers persons or property. Previously, boards could expel students in grades three through twelve, in the board's discretion, if the conduct on school grounds or at a school-sponsored activity violated a publicized policy of the board or was seriously disruptive of the educational process or endangered persons or property. The Act does not modify the standards for expulsion for conduct off school grounds or for mandatory expulsions.
New Curriculum and Course Requirements for African-American and Black Studies and Puerto Rican and Latino Studies
Sections 1 and 2 of Public Act 19-12 provide that, for the school year commencing July 1, 2021, public schools must include African-American and black studies and Puerto Rican and Latino studies as part of the program of instruction for the school district. In accordance with the Act, the State Board must make available curriculum materials for African-American and black studies and Puerto Rican and Latino studies, and districts may use those materials or other materials in implementing the curriculum. The Act also permits districts to accept gifts, grants, and donations designed for the development and implementation of the African-American and black studies and Puerto Rican and Latino studies curriculum required by the Act.
In addition to the inclusion of African-American and black studies and Puerto Rican and Latino studies in each district's program of instruction, Sections 3 and 4 of the Act require the State Education Resource Center ("SERC") to develop a one-credit black and Latino studies course to be offered at the high school level. By January 1, 2021, the State Board must review and approve the black and Latino studies course developed by SERC, provided the State Board determines that the course meets criteria set forth in the law, and must submit a course description to the General Assembly by January 15, 2021. School districts may offer this course in grades nine through twelve for the 20212022 school year, but must offer the course in those grades for the 2022-2023 school year and each school year thereafter. For the school years commencing July 1, 2022 to July 1, 2024, the State Department of Education ("SDE") will conduct an annual audit to ensure that the approved black and Latino studies course is being offered by each school district and will submit a report on the audit to the General Assembly.
Computer Science Instruction
Section 1 of Public Act 19-128 amends various statutes and generally highlights the legislature's desire to strengthen computer science instruction in public schools. In particular, Section 1 of the Act, effective July 1, 2019, broadens the current curricular requirement of "computer programming," specifically, to "computer science," generally, which may include computer programming. In addition, Section 11 provides that, on or after July 1, 2020, consideration must be given to career and academic choices in computer science, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in student success plans.
Firearm Safety Programs
Previously, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-18c permitted local and regional boards of education to offer firearm safety programs to students in grades K-8. Effective July 1, 2019, Section 5 of Public Act 19-5 expands the grades to which the program may be made available by permitting boards of education to offer firearm safety programs to grades K-12. The Act retains a curricular opt-out whereby parents and guardians may request that their child be exempted from the program or any portion thereof by providing written notification to the school, and schools must provide an opportunity for other academic work during that time. Section 4 of the Act specifies that, subject to available appropriations, the State Board must develop guides to aid boards of education in developing such firearm safety programs for students in grades K-12.
Promoting Careers in Manufacturing
Section 1 of Public Act 19-58, effective July 1, 2019, confirms that guidance counselors and school counselors may provide materials concerning manufacturing, military, and law enforcement careers when discussing career options with students.
Section 2 of the Act, effective July 1, 2019, requires that each board of education include goals for career placement for students who do not pursue an advanced degree immediately after graduation in such board's statement of educational goals for the district.
Section 3, also effective July 1, 2019, requires that each student success plan, beginning in grade six, provide evidence of career exploration in each grade including, but not limited to, careers in manufacturing. SDE will revise and issue guidance regarding these changes to student success plans.
Lastly, the Act establishes a study relating to the demand for career and technical education teachers in the state's high schools and community colleges. The report is due February 1, 2020.
Current law requires that the Superintendent, or designee, of any local or regional board of education provide a "certificate of age" as verification of a minor's legal age for purposes of employment in certain occupations. Effective July 1, 2019, Section 97 of Public Act 19-117 clarifies that such requirements do not apply to individuals desiring to employ a minor through a youth development program of a regional workforce development board.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.