EducationSession Review 2020


The Education Committee advanced bills this session that require schools to provide injury leave to employees and create a policy that prohibits sexual contact between a teacher and a student.

Student discipline

Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed a bill that made several changes to provisions in the Student Discipline Act related to suspension, expulsion and mandatory reassignment.

LB515, introduced by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas, required that a student be given an opportunity to complete any classwork and homework missed during a suspension, including examinations.

It also required school districts to reinstate a student when their expulsion has ended and accept non-duplicative, grade-appropriate credits earned by the student during the expulsion from certain accredited institutions.

Among other changes, the bill also created and modified several procedures for student discipline hearings.

The bill passed on a vote of 26-7 on Aug. 13, the final day of the 2020 session. It was vetoed by the governor Aug. 17.

In his veto message, Ricketts objected to a provision in the bill that he said increased the burden of proof on school districts when they discipline a student for engaging in the unlawful possession, selling or use of a controlled substance.

Another provision defining a personal injury caused by accident would have made it harder to discipline students who injure a teacher or another student, he said.

A proposal that would have protected teachers from being fired if they physically intervene when a student is harming others failed to advance past the first round of debate after a failed cloture motion.

Under LB147, as introduced last session by North Platte Sen. Mike Groene, teachers and administrators could “use the necessary physical contact or physical restraint” to control a violent student.

The bill would have protected teachers and other school personnel from professional or administrative discipline for using physical intervention or removing a student from a class.

A pending amendment would have added provisions of LB998, introduced by Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil. They would have required each school district to offer annual behavioral awareness and intervention training to teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, school nurses and counselors beginning with the 2021-22 school year.

After several hours of debate on general file, Groene offered a motion to invoke cloture, which ceases debate and forces a vote on a bill. The motion failed on a vote of 32-15. Thirty-three votes were needed.

LB147 was not scheduled for further debate.

Policies and assessments

Senators voted 48-0 to pass a bill that requires special language assessments for children who are deaf or hard of hearing and declares that Nebraska recognizes American Sign Language as a separate and distinct language.

LB965, introduced by Omaha Sen. Mike McDonnell, requires the state Department of Education, in collaboration with the Nebraska Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, to establish and coordinate a language assessment program for children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The program will assess, monitor and track the language developmental milestones of those children from birth through age five.

Under the proposal, language assessments will be given as needed to each child under 6 who is deaf or hard of hearing in compliance with the state Special Education Act and the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The bill requires the department and the commission to publish a joint annual report on their respective websites and submit it to the Legislature.

LB965 also allows the department to provide for the teaching of ASL in schools. If a school offers a course in ASL, it must be offered to all students and may be used for world language credits.

Similarly, any postsecondary institution may offer an elective course in ASL, and any credits earned may be used for world language credits if recognized as such by the institution.

LB1080, introduced by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop and passed 47-0, requires the school board or board of education of each school district and the governing authority of each private, denominational or parochial school to adopt a policy regarding appropriate relationships between a student and a school employee, student teacher or intern on or before June 30, 2021.

The required policy must prohibit any school employee, student teacher or intern from engaging in grooming. It also must prohibit any relationship that involves sexual contact or penetration from occurring between a student and a school employee, student teacher or intern while a student is enrolled and for a minimum of one year after a student graduates or ceases enrollment.

The policy also must include a procedure for reporting suspected grooming or other unacceptable conduct by a school employee, student teacher or intern to the school administration, the state Department of Education, the state Department of Health and Human Services and law enforcement.

Additionally, the policy must describe the preferred methods for a school employee, student teacher or intern to use in communicating with students, including cell phones, email services or social media platforms.

Finally, it must include notice that policy violations could result in disciplinary action and referral to the state Department of Education and that any violation involving sexual or other abuse will result in referral to DHHS, law enforcement or both.

Omnibus bill

A bill that would have made several technical changes to state education law advanced to select file but was not scheduled for subsequent debate.

LB1131, sponsored by Groene, contains technical changes recommended by the state Department of Education, the Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education and committee staff.

The bill included amended provisions of several additional bills:
• LB640, introduced last session by Omaha Sen. Sara Howard, which would have expanded the current definition of multicultural education to include studies relative to the Holocaust and other acts of genocide as well as slavery, lynching and racial massacres in America;
• LB950, introduced by Murman, which would have allowed the state commissioner of education to verify the eligibility of certain Access College Early Scholarship Program applicants upon request by the commission;
• LB1076, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz, which would have allowed the state’s tribal colleges to participate in the Community College Gap Assistance Program by expanding it to include eligible programs at certain accredited, nonprofit, two-year postsecondary institutions; and
• LB1001, introduced by Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue, which would have required that the phone number for a national or local suicide prevention hotline or a crisis text line be printed on each new student identification card issued to middle and high school students enrolled under a school board’s authority and students enrolled in Nebraska public postsecondary institutions, beginning with the 2021-22 school year.

Other measures

Lawmakers approved a bill that requires public colleges and universities in Nebraska to submit a biennial report on sexual harassment and Title IX compliance to the Legislature.

Under LB534, introduced by Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh and passed 41-1, each Nebraska public postsecondary educational institution must submit the report on or before Sept. 15 of odd-numbered years, beginning in 2021.

Among other information, the report will include the results of any campus climate survey related to sexual harassment, sexual harassment training provided to Title IX personnel and information on where students and employees may receive emergency assistance to address instances of sexual harassment.

The bill also requires the committee to hold a public hearing to review each report, beginning on or before Dec. 15, 2021.

School employees will receive injury leave if they are injured by another person while at work under a bill that passed on a vote of 48-0.

Under LB1186, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers, a school district employee who is physically injured by another person who “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury” to that employee will receive injury leave and be paid their usual salary for the time they are absent and unable to work as a result of the injury.

The employee’s injury must have occurred within their scope of employment in a way that would be covered by the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act. An employee will receive no additional compensation under the act for any day that they already have been paid injury leave.

An employee may receive no more than seven calendar days of injury leave. After that, the employee must use workers’ compensation benefits. Injury leave will not count against any other leave an employee accrues.

The governor vetoed a bill that required Nebraska students to submit a federal college financial aid application before they graduate from high school.

LB1089, introduced by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas, required each public high school student to complete and submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid before graduating, beginning with the 2021-22 school year.

A student’s parent or legal guardian, or the person standing in loco parentis to the student, could have submitted a signed form indicating that they authorize the student to decline to complete and submit a FAFSA. A student who is 19 or older or is an emancipated minor could have signed and submitted the waiver.

A principal or the principal’s designee also could have authorized a student to decline for good cause.

The bill passed on a vote of 29-12 on Aug. 13, the final day of the 2020 session. It was vetoed by the governor Aug. 17.

In his veto message, Ricketts said state requirements related to high school graduation should be limited to content and rigor and that LB1089 is “an unfunded and burdensome mandate on students and families.”

Lawmakers gave first-round approval to a bill that would have allocated lottery funds to certain education-related programs for the next five years, but it was not scheduled for subsequent debate.

Current law directs a portion of state lottery funds to several education programs. LB920, introduced by Groene, would have specified allocation of those funds for fiscal year 2021-22 through FY2025-26.

The proposal would have allocated 9.5 percent of the education lottery funds each year to a new fund to pay for behavioral awareness and intervention training proposed in LB998. It also would have directed 7 percent of education lottery funds to new career-readiness and dual-credit education initiatives.

Additionally, the proposal would have required the department to establish a mental health training grant program for school districts and educational service units.

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