State house to school house: new laws affect MFISD

By Richard Zowie

The Highlander

The State of Texas has implemented new laws for public schools — including rules on school buses, bullying and graduation requirements — and area schools are working to get them implemented.

Burnet County is home to two public school districts: Marble Falls Independent School District (MFISD) and Burnet Consolidated ISD.

MFISD Superintendent Chris Allen, PhD, provided updates on the different laws implemented:

* New school buses must have shoulder-to-lap seat belts for all riders (SB 693). “We are in the process of gaining approval to purchase four new buses, and they will have the required harnesses,” Allen said.

* With the help of a measure dubbed David’s Law, school officials hope they will have more tools at their disposal to fight cyber bullying (SB 179). The superintendent said they have aligned rules, expectations, documentation, and training to the new requirements.

* Under a newly created loophole in state law, school employees can give leftover food to hungry students (SB 725). “We are working through options for how to best make this benefit our community,” Allen said.

* Parents will have more time to settle up their children’s school lunch debt before the cafeteria worker stops serving hot lunches. The law creates a grace period for students who show up without money to continue eating hot lunches before they are “lunch shamed” by being given cold sandwiches. “We were already offering a ‘grace period’ more generous than that described in this law prior to its passage,” Allen said.

* According to Senate Bill 1566, starting Sept. 1, schools are required to notify a parent within five days if their child is in the same classroom with a student diagnosed with head lice. The district has already sent out a notification, just as they have with “David’s Law.”

* Young children of peace officers, firefighters and emergency medical first responders who were seriously injured or killed in the line of duty can attend state-funded prekindergarten for free. Last year, the governor recognized 57 such officers were seriously hurt or killed. The law takes effect immediately. “None have enrolled under this provision as this time, but we would welcome them with loving arms,” Allen said.

* Schools can no longer suspend students below third grade. In place of both in-school or out-of-school suspensions, school districts must instead find alternative age-appropriate disciplinary plans for students that are research based and provide models for positive behavior. Exceptions include students who bring a weapon, certain drugs or alcohol to school. This law goes into effect immediately. The superintendent said they aligned to this in a manner similar to the answer to “David’s Law.”

* High school seniors who fail one or two end-of-course exams required for graduation could get their diploma, anyway. Lawmakers extended a 2015 law that allows individual graduation committees to weigh whether the student should graduate based on factors like grades in relevant subjects, attendance and other measures. The Legislature voted to give the program a two-year pass by letting it continue until Sept. 1, 2019. “This is an extension of a previously passed law, so we are already applying these rules as applicable,” the superintendent said.

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