Legislative roundup, 2.22.21: Bill would seek to relax expulsion requirements

Under current state law, school officials must expel a student who brings a knife to school.

A bill in the Senate is designed to give trustees and administrators some latitude.

Senate Bill 1116 would maintain a one-year expulsion for K-12 students who bring a firearm to school, mirroring the Federal Gun-Free Schools Act. But the bill is designed to provide local discretion for incidents involving knives.

On Monday, the Senate State Affairs Committee heard testimony from an Idaho Falls-area mother, whose second-grader was expelled in January after giving a classmate the gift of a kitchen knife.

“She had no idea that what she brought to school was dangerous,” Amber Hoover said. “Her first mistake got her expelled from school.”

Bonneville School District Scott Woolstenhulme offered another anecdote from the Eastern Idaho district. Last year, a student showed up at school wearing a coat he hadn’t worn since a summer camping trip. The student realized a pocket knife was in the coat pocket. After the student did the right thing, turning the knife in to the school resource officer, the school had no choice but to expel the student.

“Those are very difficult and challenging conversations to have with students and their parents,” Woolstenhulme said.

The State Department of Education and the Idaho School Boards Association both support the bill, saying it would allow schools to expel a student who poses a threat, while also exercising some latitude.

“When a student is expelled, that stays with their record forever,” ISBA Executive Director Karen Echeverria said.

Senate Bill 1116 now heads to the Senate floor for possible amendments. Supporters say they draw a clearer distinction between firearms and other potential weapons.

Earlier Monday, Senate State Affairs introduced another version of a guns-in-schools bill, this one from the Idaho Association of School Administrators. This bill would clarify that local school boards get to decide whether to allow employees to carry firearms in school, Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press reported. That’s currently the case under existing state law.

On the House side, Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Iona, has proposed a bill that would allow anyone with an enhanced concealed weapons permit to carry on school grounds — with or without the approval of local school officials.

House Education Committee advances contract bill

The House Education Committee advanced a bill Monday that is designed to clear up confusion between certification and contract laws for some teachers.

Pushed by Rep. Rod Furniss, R-Rigby, House Bill 111 would apply to teachers who are seeking their initial teaching certificate through a nontraditional program.

If passed, the bill would allow school boards to retain teachers on an annual contract if they have not completed the three-year nontraditional certification program in time. When the teacher completes the program, they would then be issued a five-year renewable certificate and qualify for the professional endorsement and a renewable contract.

In recent years, hundreds of Idaho teachers have entered the classroom through a nontraditional program such as Teach for America, ABCTE or a because they are a content specialist with experience in the field.

Butte County school board member Karen Pyron and ISBA urged the committee to support the bill.

Pyron said the issue has come up in Butte County three or four times over the past decade. Most recently, Butte County was trying to keep its lone biology teacher, who entered the classroom under a nontraditional route.

“Life happens,” Pyron said, explaining why some teachers don’t finish the nontraditional certification program in time. In this case, mentoring was a challenge because the district didn’t have another biology teacher to mentor the new teacher.

“The long story short is that the districts want and quite frankly need these teachers to continue to be in the classroom,” ISBA policy and government affairs director Quinn Perry said.

Nobody testified against the bill.

The committee voted to advance the bill on a voice vote.

HB 111 heads to the House floor with a recommendation to pass.

Charter commission bill heads to Senate floor

A bill to make the Idaho Public Charter School Commission more of a free-standing entity is on its way to the Senate floor.

The Senate Education Committee quickly signed off on the bill Monday afternoon.

It’s a bit complicated, but here’s what Senate Bill 1115 would do:

  • It would move the commission out from under the office of the State Board of Education — where it now reports to board staff. The commission would remain an offshoot of the State Board, a policymaking panel comprised of gubernatorial appointees and the elected superintendent of public instruction.
  • The commission, and not State Board staff, would be responsible for hiring a commission director.
  • The governor would appoint all seven commission members. Currently, the governor appoints three commissioners, the speaker of the Idaho House appoints two members and the president pro tempore of the state Senate appoints two members.

The commission’s role has expanded since it was established in 2004. The commission now oversees 57 charter schools, the vast majority of Idaho’s charters. SB 1115 reflects the growth of a commission that should be more autonomous, said Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, a bill co-sponsor.

SB 1115 now heads to the Senate floor.

Disclosure: Idaho Education News covered Monday’s hearings remotely.

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