Senate Committee Passes Three Controversial School Bills

Monday, April 10th 2017, 5:59 pm
By: Aaron Brilbeck

A state Senate committee passed three controversial bills dealing with schools on Monday.  

The bills cover disciplining students with disabilities; a grading system that’s been called institutional racism; and schools reportedly using four day school weeks as a teacher incentive.

House Bill 1684 would require school districts planning to go to four-day school weeks to simply submit a plan to the state Department of Education. Right now, schools aren’t required to do that.  

“Currently, there’s no requirement that they have to tell the state department that they’re going to a four day week,” Carolyn Thompson with the state Department of Education told lawmakers. “We find out when we do their annual accreditation check.”

School districts have said moving to four-day weeks is one way to save money, but the state Department of Education said there are ulterior motives.

“This is a recruitment tool to encourage teachers not to leave their district in Oklahoma?” Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Oklahoma City, asked Thompson.

“That’s correct,” she replied.  

"So there’s more mitigating situations over there other than money involved in it?” Sharp asked.

“Yes, we have heard that,” Thompson said.

The Senate education committee also passed a bill restricting the use of corporal punishment for students with disabilities, although lawmakers acknowledge federal law; specifically Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, already covers that.

“There’s no way that a school district under (Section) 504 is going to punish a child that does not understand why they’re being punished, and obviously someone having a severe disability doesn’t understand that,” Sharp said.

The committee also passed House Bill 1693, which fixes some of the problems with the state’s A-F system of grading schools.

The state board of education proposed a system where higher grades will be given to schools with more minority students.

“We have to come up with something better. Can we not come up with something better?” Sharp asked.  

“Opaque might be better for some people, but I believe transparency and clearness of thought and expression with one letter grade, this is your summative score," Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa, replied.

Al three bills now go to the full Senate floor.