Va. House passes education bills on transgender students, college assault policies

A series of education bills that could impact students ranging in age from kindergarten through college passed the Virginia House or Senate Friday.

In one significant change, the House voted 61-37 in favor of a bill that would prevent the arrest of students for disorderly conduct at school or during school activities. Schools could then discipline students if needed rather than a student getting charged with a crime.

The House also voted 62-36 to support a state-level model policy that would set minimum standards for the treatment of transgender students in public schools. The Senate endorsed a similar measure last week.

New education policies

Virginia may soon establish statewide standards for use of cell phones, tablets or other digital devices in classrooms.

Under a bill the House passed, the Virginia Department of Education would need to implement the health and safety guidelines by the start of the 2021-2022 school year.

“The guidelines shall be based on peer-reviewed, independently funded studies,” the bill says.

It should at a minimum address:

  • Digital device use for different age ranges and developmental levels;
  • The amount of time spent on digital devices in the classroom;
  • Appropriate break frequency from the use of digital devices;
  • Physical positioning of digital devices in the classroom;
  • The use of digital devices for homework;
  • Recommended teacher training to ensure best practice implementation.

It passed 85-13-1 — and, like the other bills passed Friday, now advances to the Senate.

The House also passed a bill requiring Department of Education standards for social-emotional learning for K-12 students by July 2021 and a report by November 2021 on how much money it would take to implement such a program.

College sexual assault and other policies

A new bill would require Virginia colleges to create a non-academic code of conduct outlining due process procedures and other information so that there is a clear path for handling sexual harassment and other complaints.

The House voted 86-12 to support the bill.

The House also voted 92-6 to prohibit colleges from requiring students to agree to arbitration agreements with the school. The legislation would also require colleges to provide immunity from discipline for personal drug or alcohol use if the school only finds out as part of a good-faith report of a rape or other sexual assault case.

In a separate vote, the House of Delegates moved to require sexual harassment training for registered lobbyists in the state.

Day care regulation shifts

After several years of back and forth, the Senate passed a bill 31-5 that would overhaul Virginia’s child day care regulations.

Among other things, the bill helps establish a rating system for day cares that receive state funding and shifts responsibilities to the Department of Education.

“This bill is the result of two years of effort by virtually every interest group that cares about young children,” Sen. Janet Howell of Fairfax County said. “It is a major reorganization of how we deal with young children’s programs.”

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