Tennessee students will have to pass a U.S. civics test to earn their high school diploma, while all teachers must learn about human trafficking under dozens of new state laws that took effect Monday.
Public education was a favorite subject of many of the hundreds of bills taken up during this year’s legislative session.
Among high-profile orders from lawmakers is a one-year return to paper testing on the state’s annual TNReady assessment, while Tennessee switches to its new testing company. Another is Gov. Bill Lee’s initiative to beef up vocational education to give students more opportunities for work-based learning and apprenticeships.
But school districts also will have to follow (or be aware of) many new laws that didn’t grab headlines. Here’s a look at 10 such measures that became effective with the new fiscal year — just in time for a new school year.
Under a 2018 law, Tennessee students had to take a U.S. civics test to graduate from high school. But under this year’s updated law, they now actually have to pass the exam. From the Declaration of Independence to the U.S. Supreme Court, the 50 questions are drawn from the citizenship test administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Students must get at least 70% right to receive their diploma, and they can take the online test multiple times. The goal is to build a more informed citizenry.
All Tennessee teachers and high school freshmen must watch a video about human trafficking under a law aimed at increasing awareness about the dangers of children, young people, and women being bought or sold, usually for sex. The student video will fall under family life curriculum, and parents may opt their children out of viewing it. The teacher video will be required training. It’s up to local districts to approve both resources. Sponsors of the legislation said that human trafficking is a disturbing and underpublicized danger to children and youth. Eighty-five of Tennessee’s 95 counties reported at least one case of human trafficking in 2011, and 94 children are trafficked in the state every month, according to a report by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Vanderbilt University.
To mark the 100th anniversary of the U.S. constitutional amendment that gave women the right to vote, schools must teach about the women’s suffrage movement in all grades during the upcoming school year. The monthly instruction will recognize Tennessee’s role in the movement leading up to the ratification of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920. The state Education Department will make resources available to teachers.
High schools will be authorized to provide free feminine hygiene products such as sanitary napkins and tampons in bathrooms and locker rooms. While not a mandate, the law aims to raise awareness that some female students don’t have financial or emotional support at home to help them tend to their bodies, especially as they begin their menstrual cycles.
Schools will be able to deal with vaping the same as with tobacco products under a new law supported by the Tennessee School Boards Association. That means they may ban vapor products anywhere that smoking or tobacco products are prohibited on school campuses. The law also doubles to more than 100 feet the distance from any school entrance that an adult staff member may smoke. And it prevents smoking on any campus after regular school hours.
Using e-cigarettes, often called vaping, has overtaken smoking traditional cigarettes in popularity among students, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tennessee law already makes it a misdemeanor to sell or distribute vapor products, which like tobacco products are highly addictive, to someone under age 18 or to help them get such products.
For districts that have cameras inside school buses, a parent or guardian may request to view footage if they believe that their student experienced harm, harassment, or bullying while being transported. They may not copy the footage and must view it under the supervision of the superintendent or a designee.
A separate law took effect in May permitting districts to install cameras on bus exteriors to record images of vehicles that illegally pass when a bus stops to load or unload students. Violators of that law could be fined up to $1,000.
Districts must notify families about available school-approved early college and career experiences before their student registers for the next round of high school classes. That notification can come electronically or by mail, and the district also must post the information on its website.
Most Tennessee public schools already have a defibrillator device on campus for cardiac emergencies. But when school resumes, all 1,800 schools will be required to have at least one automated external defibrillator, or AED, on site. The device can restore a heartbeat during cardiac arrest, the No. 1 killer of student athletes in the United States, according to the nonprofit group Parent Heart Watch.
Beginning in July, divorced parents who share custody of a child may choose which parent’s address to use when placing their student in a zoned school. The parents must have a parenting plan and agree on their school choice. If the student lives outside a school’s zone, the family is responsible for providing transportation.
A new law will enforce Tennessee’s existing rule that juveniles who have been placed in a detention center for committing crimes must receive a minimum of four hours of educational instruction each day. Staff at some detention centers were not aware of the rule or ignored it, according to one sponsor of the legislation.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by Chalkbeat Tennessee, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Sign up for their newsletters at ckbe.at/newsletters.