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Kentucky school districts face several new laws in '17

By Valarie Honeycutt Spears Lexington Herald-Leader

LEXINGTON -- Kentucky public school students, teachers and officials will by this fall have to adjust to several new laws passed in the 2017 General Assembly.

"The new Republican majority in the General Assembly led to swift consensus on a number of education-related bills in a short session. The changes will be a lot for school districts to manage, especially with the two more reform-minded bills in the mix -- House Bill 520 and Senate Bill 1," said Brigitte Blom Ramsey, executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

"I think the biggest sentiment I hear the most is 'give us some time to absorb the changes,'" said Stephanie Winkler, president of the Kentucky Education Association, an educators group. "I think that's the biggest complaint, they need time to study and absorb all the things that are going to affect our students from this session, and that's going to take some time.

"I've been trying to encourage districts and leaders to ask for that time," Winkler said.

House Bill 520, which allows charter schools in Kentucky for the first time; and Senate Bill 1, which will effectively repeal the Common Core standards and calls for several other reforms, got the most attention. But Kentucky Department of Education officials updated state board members Wednesday about more than 40 other new laws that will affect elementary and secondary students and classrooms, including:

â ¢ Senate Bill 159, which requires all public high school students to pass a civics test in order to receive a regular diploma.

â ¢ House Bill 128, which requires the Kentucky Board of Education to establish an elective social studies course on the Bible.

â ¢ Senate Bill 17, which permits students to voluntarily express religious or political viewpoints in school assignments free from discrimination. Religious and political organizations are allowed equal access to public forums on the same basis as nonreligious and nonpolitical organizations.

â ¢ Senate Bill 50, which allows school calendar flexibility for districts adopting a school calendar with the first student attendance day no earlier than the Monday closest to Aug. 26.

â ¢ Senate Bill 117, which allows a veteran with a bachelor's degree in any area to be issued a provisional teaching certificate if other criteria are met.

â ¢ House Bill 206, which provides Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) funds to students enrolled in a registered apprenticeship program.

â ¢ House Bill 241, which prohibits a coach from returning a student to play sports who is diagnosed with a concussion; prohibits a student from returning to play if no physician or licensed provider is available to conduct the required concussion evaluation; and prohibits a student who does not receive the required evaluation from returning to play in a subsequent practice or competition unless written clearance from a physician is provided.

â ¢ House Bill 269, which allows relatives who are currently ineligible for employment in a school district to serve as substitutes for a certified or classified employee under certain conditions. House Bill 277 removes the local board of education member eligibility restriction that no aunt, uncle, son-in-law, or daughter-in-law be employed by that board.

Those bills with an emergency provision take effect immediately on the signature of Gov. Matt Bevin. The rest will take effect on June 29, state officials said.

In addition to the new laws, schools will have a new rating and accountability system to work under later this year from the Kentucky Department of Education.

"It's going to be a lot for districts to process and we want them to do so in a way that is best for students, so it's going to be important that we allow the time to get all of this right without a lot of additional changes on the horizon," Ramsey said.

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