The Tennessee Legislature passed several bills taking effect July 1 dealing with public schools and school safety. From raising teacher base salaries in the state salary schedule to new guidelines regarding bus drivers, the legislature enacted at least 15 bills that deal with public schools.
HB 0340 established a zero-tolerance offense and a punishment of expulsion for not less than one calendar year for any student threatening mass violence on school property or at a school-related activity.
HB 0322 revises various provisions of current school safety laws and the Schools Against Violence in Education Act.
SB 1221 allows the commissioner of education to grant a temporary permit enabling an individual studying to become a teacher who needs student teaching time to fill an existing teaching vacancy when the school cannot secure a qualified teacher. This bill and HB 0322, which establishes new pathways for honorably discharged veterans to receive an occupational teaching license, are intended to help fill teaching vacancies in the state.
The moral corruption of minors has been on the legislators’ minds as they also passed SB 1059, making it a Class E felony for a book publisher, distributor, or seller to knowingly sell or distribute obscene materials to a public school serving any grade from K-12. This legislation directly responds to parents complaining about specific books in their children’s schools being obscene. One such book, “Hatchet” by Gary Paulson, was recently debated at White County School Board meetings, with the board voting to continue using the book. Director of White County Schools Kurt Dronebarger said obscenity is a very arbitrary term. He believes in and trusts the process for determining the appropriateness of books.
“We want to recognize the community’s desires while still adhering to state law,” Dronebarger said.
He was pleased that the community came together to continue the Baccalaureate Ceremony that kept the school system out of legal jeopardy. Dronebarger stated White County already meets or exceeds most new state requirements. He said White County has no problem filling teaching positions, and teacher retention is very high.
Randy Alley, maintenance and transportation supervisor, said that SB 1281, which revises laws relevant to cameras on school buses and failing to stop for a school bus that is loading or unloading, should increase safety. Motor vehicle operators can now be ticketed by law enforcement for failing to stop for a stopping school bus based on bus camera evidence. Alley also stated that legalized use of portable electronic devices for navigation and accurately accounting for students at pickup and drop off would be helpful if the county could budget the money for the devices and service.
“You hate to think about serious accidents involving school buses, but that is when these devices would really be worth any cost,” Alley said. He also clarified that SB 0579 moved responsibility for requiring certain examinations of bus drivers, requiring certain reports, and revoking bus driver certificates from the state board to the local board of education.
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