Latest Developments from the Connecticut General Assembly: The Education Committee Has Spoken (Part One) – April 2022 | Pullman & Comley – School Law

Sam Fried

The General Assembly’s Education Committee likely finished up its work for this legislative session and has approved a plethora of bills. Here is a summary of these bills (which now await action by the full General Assembly):   MENTAL HEALTH AND EARLY CHILDHOOD: S.B. No. 1 (“An Act Concerning Childhood Mental […]

The General Assembly’s Education Committee likely finished up its work for this legislative session and has approved a plethora of bills. Here is a summary of these bills (which now await action by the full General Assembly):  

MENTAL HEALTH AND EARLY CHILDHOOD: S.B. No. 1 (“An Act Concerning Childhood Mental And Physical Health Services In Schools”) would require the State Department of Education (SDE) to administer a program to provide grants to school districts for the purpose of hiring and retaining additional school social workers, psychologists, counselors and nurses.  The bill would also authorize the State Board of Education, upon the request of a school district or regional educational service center, to issue a “human services permit” to any applicant with specialized training, experience or expertise in social work, human services, psychology or sociology. The bill sets forth the minimum education and experience requirements for this permit, which would authorize permit holders to be employed and provide mental health and human services to students, in accordance with their scope of practice or within their area of expertise or specialty.    

The bill requires the SDE (in collaboration with the governing authority for intramural and interscholastic athletics) to develop by July 1, 2023 a mental health plan for student athletes to raise awareness of mental health resources available to student athletes; beginning with the 2023-2024 school year, school districts will be required to implement this plan.

The bill would amend the school medication administration statutes so as to allow the administration by school nurses (or, during their absence or unavailability, qualified/trained school employees) of opioid antagonists for the purpose of providing emergency first aid to students who are experiencing an opioid-related drug overdose and do not have a prior written authorization from a parent/guardian or a prior written order of a qualified medical professional for the administration of such antagonist.  There shall be at least one such qualified school employee trained in opioid antagonist administration on the grounds of a school during regular school hours in the absence of a school nurse.  The parent or guardian of a student may submit a request, in writing, to the school nurse and school medical advisor that an opioid antagonist not be administered to such student.

The bill would create a task force to combat ableism, which is defined as bias, prejudice or discrimination, intentional or unintentional, against people with physical, psychiatric or intellectual disabilities. The task force shall identify 1) current efforts to educate all students on disability and combat ableism in the public school curriculum and classrooms, and 2) opportunities to expand such efforts and integrate them into social-emotional learning, then submit a report with its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly’s Education and Children’s Committees by January 1, 2023.

The bill would increase the caps on the per child cost of the Office of Early Childhood (OEC) school readiness program offered by school readiness providers from $9,027 to $16,000 for each child three years of age or under who is in infant or toddler care and not in a preschool program, and $14,500 for each child three years of age or older who is in a preschool program.  This would affect the calculation of OEC grants.

The bill provides that effective July 1, 2022, each employee of an early childhood care and education program shall be paid an annual salary as prescribed in the compensation schedule that is being developed by the OEC, provided that if an employee’s salary is greater than the amount prescribed in the compensation schedule, the employee shall be paid the greater amount.

PARAEDUCATORS:  H.B. No. 5321 (“An Act Implementing Certain Recommendations Of The School Paraeducator Advisory Council”) would establish a system of professional development for paraeducators. Beginning in the 2023-2024 school year, each paraeducator employed by a school district must participate in a program of professional development, to be made available by the school district, annually, at no cost to its paraeducators, that is at least 18 hours in length, “of which a preponderance is in a small group or individual instructional setting.”

The bill would require the Commissioner of Education to convene a working group to develop recommendations for the creation of a system of professional certification for paraeducators.  The bill specifies the membership of the working group; the commissioner is to submit a report with its recommendations by January 1, 2024 to the General Assembly’s Education Committee.

The bill would require the SDE to conduct an annual review of the health care plan options offered by school districts to their paraeducators. The review shall examine the coverage levels, premiums and out-of-pocket expenses charged to paraeducators in each plan, and 1) calculate whether the total cost of such premiums and out-of-pocket expenses are greater than 5% of the paraeducator’s annual salary, and 2) compare the coverage levels, premiums and out-of-pocket expenses to the “State Partnership Plan.”  The SDE shall use the results of the review to develop an annual report on paraeducator health care plans, to be submitted to the General Assembly’s Education, Appropriations, and Insurance Committees.

The bill would require the strategic school profiles that are annually submitted by school districts to contain information on paraeducators, including the number of paraeducators employed within each school and for the district as a whole, along with the job title, hourly rate of pay, total number of hours and days worked, annual salary, and health care contributions as a percentage of salary for each paraeducator.

The bill would require school districts to provide 1) adequate prior notice of planning placement team meetings where the parent has requested the presence of the paraprofessional assigned to their child, so that the paraprofessional may adequately prepare for the meeting, and 2) training (upon request of the paraprofessional) on the role of the paraprofessional at the planning and placement team meeting.  The bill would also require that school districts provide the paraprofessionals with access to the individualized education programs so that paraprofessionals may be able to provide the special education/related services to the child specified therein.

REMOTE LEARNING: H.B. No. 5287 (“An Act Concerning Remote Learning In Connecticut”) would, effective with the 2023-2024 school year, permit school districts to authorize remote learning for grades kindergarten through 12; for the 2022-2023 school year, school districts only have the option to provide remote learning for grades nine through 12. 

CAREER PATHWAYS PROGRAMS: S.B. No. 228 (“An Act Concerning Opportunities For Students To Participate In Pathways Programs And The Provision Of Information About The Availability Of Technical Education And Career Schools And Regional Agricultural Science And Technology Education Centers”) would require the SDE to administer the Pipeline for Connecticut’s Future program in which the SDE will assist school districts in enhancing existing (or establishing new) partnerships with one or more local businesses to offer a pathways program one or more fields, such as manufacturing, computer programming or the culinary arts, and that may lead to a diploma and a certificate or license upon graduation. The program would assist students in 1) obtaining occupational licenses, 2) participating in apprenticeship opportunities, and 3) gaining immediate job skills, along with providing industry-specific class time and cooperative work placements, on-site and apprenticeship training, and course credit and occupational licenses to students upon completion. 

The SDE would develop best practices that may be used by school districts when establishing a pathways program.  The bill would require the Commissioner of Education to review existing state laws and regulations related to the establishment of pathways programs (including those governing attendance, course credit for schoolwork performed out of the classroom or in an apprenticeship setting, and educator certification) to identify any obstacles or prohibitions that may limit a school district’s ability to build partnerships with local businesses for establishing a successful pathways program.  The Commissioner of Education is then to submit recommendations for legislation by January 1, 2023 to the General Assembly’s Education Committee. The bill would also require school counselors to provide information to students in middle school and high school about technical education and career schools and regional agricultural science and technology education centers.

CURRICULUM AND FINANCIAL LITERACY: H.B. No. 5285 (“An Act Concerning The Public School Curriculum”) would require school districts to provide climate change instruction as part of the science curriculum.  The bill would establish a personal financial management pilot program, to be administered by the Capitol Region Education Council, in order to assist member school districts in the provision of personal financial management instruction, using the personal financial management/financial literacy curriculum materials developed by the State Board of Education.  The bill would also establish the Connecticut Civics Education Task Force to study and develop strategies to improve how public schools provide instruction on civics, citizenship and American government to students, with the Task Force to submit it findings and recommendations to the General Assembly’s Education Committee by January 1, 2023.

ASIAN AMERICAN AND PACIFIC ISLANDER STUDIES: H.B. No. 5282 (“An Act Concerning The Inclusion Of Asian American And Pacific Islander Studies In The Public School Curriculum”) would (effective July 1, 2025) require public schools to include “Asian American and Pacific Islander studies” as part of their social studies curriculum.  Such studies shall include, but need not be limited to, a focus on 1) the history of Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the state, the region and the United States, and 2) the contributions of a) Asian American and Pacific Islanders towards advancing civil rights from the 19th century to the present day, b) individual Asian American and Pacific Islanders in government, the arts, humanities and sciences, and c) Asian American and Pacific Islander communities to the economic, cultural, social and  political development of the United States.  School districts may 1) utilize the curriculum materials developed by the State Board of Education, and 2) accept donations designated for the development and implementation of this curriculum.

PRESERVICE PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT FOR TEACHER PREPARATION PROGRAMS: H.B. No. 5286 (“An Act Concerning The Development Of A New Preservice Performance Assessment For Teacher Preparation Programs”) would cease the state-wide implementation of the preservice performance assessment “edTPA” on July 1, 2024 and instead create a new state-wide preservice performance assessment for teacher preparation programs offered in our state’s institutions of higher education.  The Commissioner of Education, the president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities, and the dean of the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut shall jointly develop the new assessment, with consideration of several factors, including 1) the positive and negative qualities of previous preservice  performance assessments, 2) how the new assessment will be implemented, along with the cost associated with its implementation, 3) reducing or eliminating any costs or fees charged to students enrolled in teacher preparation programs as part of the assessment’s  implementation, and 4) designing such assessment to be evidence-based with incorporation of best practices.  The Commissioner of Education is to submit a report on the new preservice performance assessment to the General Assembly’s Education Committee by January 1, 2024.

MINORITY TEACHER RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION S.B. No. 274 (“An Act Concerning Minority Teacher Recruitment And Retention”) would establish a Task Force to Diversify the Educator Workforce, that would be charged with conducting a study to evaluate the implementation and effectiveness of existing minority teacher recruitment/retention programs and efforts at the state and local levels, and then submitting a report with its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly’s Education Committee by January 1, 2023.

TEACHER CERTIFICATION: S.B. No. 273 (“An Act Concerning A Review Of The Statutes Governing Teacher Certification And The Creation Of A Career And Technical Pathways Instructor Permit”) would require the SDE to conduct a review of the statutes and regulations relating to teacher certification in order to identify obsolete provisions, evaluate existing requirements for effectiveness, and analyze whether any these statutes or regulations create a barrier to entry or undue hardship for the recruitment or retention of teaching candidates, including reciprocity with other states and Puerto Rico, or addressing the academic needs of students in the state. The SDE is then to submit a report with its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly’s Education Committee by January 1, 2023. The bill would also authorize the State Board of Education (upon request of a school district) to issue a “career and technical pathways instructor permit” to any applicant with specialized training, experience or expertise in the field of manufacturing, allied health, computer technology, engineering or any of the construction trades.  This permit would authorize a person to hold a part-time position of not more than 20 classroom instructional hours per week as a teacher of a class in such person’s area of specialized training, experience or expertise.  The bill sets forth the qualifications and evaluation provisions for a permit holder, and further provides that no person holding this permit shall fill a position that will result in the displacement of any person holding a teaching certificate who is already employed at the school.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND IN-SERVICE TRAINING REQUIREMENTS: H.B. No. 5323 (“An Act Establishing A Working Group To Examine Ways To Consolidate Or Eliminate Certain Professional Development And In-Service Training Requirements For Educators”) would require the  Commissioner of Education to establish a working group to examine and make recommendations concerning the consolidation or elimination of unnecessary, obsolete or  redundant professional development and in-service requirements. The bill specifies the membership of the working group and requires the commissioner to submit a report on the working group’s findings and recommendations to the General Assembly’s Education Committee by January 1, 2023 .

STATE EDUCATION RESOURCE CENTER: S.B. No. 231 (“An Act Concerning The State Education Resource Center”) would expressly require the State Education Resource Center (SERC) to 1) support local educational agencies in serving the needs of  families, communities and service providers. 2) support programs and activities concerning early childhood education, and 3) collaborate with other state agencies.  The bill would expressly authorize SERC to lease real property and would require SDE to allocate such funds to SERC to allow it to operate (including providing professional development activities to certified employees).  

EARLY CHILDHOOD: H.B. No. 5279 (“An Act Implementing The Recommendations Of The Office Of Early Childhood”), in addition to technical changes, would expand the Early Childhood Cabinet’s membership by adding two new members, would permit one of the new members to be compensated for their time, and would eliminate a provision in the law that removes members from the cabinet if they miss three consecutive meetings or 50% of all meetings in one calendar year.  The bill extends the validity of the early childhood teacher credential issued by the OEC to certain people with associate degrees by removing a June 30, 2021 termination date and extending it indefinitely. The bill revises the “family child care” requirements by maintaining the usual six student enrollment limit, but allowing the provider to enroll up to nine students year round if the provider employs an OEC-approved assistant or substitute staff member who is present to assist the provider. The bill reduces the number of weeks from 50 to 48 weeks per year that a child care program must operate to be a “year-round” program.

Stay tuned for more.

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