Weekly NewsBrief 3/1/21 - 3/7/21

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Inslee signs bill allowing COVID-19-related waivers of some graduation requirements – By Maya Leshikar, the Seattle Times

Struggling Washington state high school seniors are getting a hand in fulfilling their graduation requirements, as Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law on Tuesday a measure to aid students whose education has been interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Roughly 70% of Washington students are still learning remotely. With online learning and a constantly changing situation, many high schoolers who were on track to graduate have fallen behind.

“This bill will help students succeed in their life’s ambitions. Our students have demonstrated significant resilience in the face of our recent hardship,” Inslee said at the bill signing.

After being fast-tracked by the Legislature, HB 1121 takes effect immediately.

Last spring, the Legislature had the State Board of Education (SBE) create a temporary waiver program for seniors after school was suddenly brought online throughout Washington. The last-minute measure was passed the last day of session and expired in July 2020.

 

N.J. schools must teach about unconscious bias, economic inequality, new law says – By Adam Clark, NJ.com

New Jersey schools must begin age-appropriate lessons about diversity and inclusion as early as kindergarten under a new law signed Monday by Gov. Phil Murphy.

The law, which several Republican lawmakers vocally opposed, calls on schools to promote “economic diversity, equity, inclusion, tolerance, and belonging in connection with gender and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, disabilities, and religious tolerance.”

It also asks schools to “examine the impact that unconscious bias and economic disparities have at both an individual level and on society as a whole.” The law takes effect next school year.

Students should already be learning to respect their individual and cultural differences as they build relationships, the bill’s Democratic sponsors said in a statement.

“The natural next step is to promote diversity, tolerance and respect for all,” said the sponsors, Assembly Democrats Carol Murphy, D-Burlington; Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, D-Mercer, Hunterdon; and Anthony Verrelli, D-Mercer, Hunterdon. “These are values students will take with them long after they graduate.”

 

School districts can determine mask policies, can’t mandate vaccines, Texas Education Agency says – from KSAT.com

When Gov. Greg Abbott announced this week that Texas would fully reopen businesses and lift the mandate on masks beginning March 10, many wondered how that would impact the state’s schools.

Now, the Texas Education Agency has issued new guidance in response to Executive Order GA-34.

TEA officials said the governor’s order does not take away the agency’s authority to implement operational requirements for public schools.

Under the new guidance, schools should continue to require masks for anyone over the age of 10, but local school boards have the authority to modify or eliminate the policy.

The TEA also updated requirements for the cleaning of surfaces in schools, which no longer requires schools to close off areas that may have been heavily used by the individual with the lab-confirmed case.

The guidance also relaxes its guidance on cleaning practices saying, “Increasingly, evidence suggests that COVID-19 does not easily spread on surfaces and that increased cleaning practices may not be beneficial in reducing spread.”

 

NYC evaluation deal dials back teacher observations to account for pandemic – By Alex Zimmerman, Chalkbeat

New York City officials are pressing forward with plans to evaluate educators this school year, after reaching a deal with union leaders that will reduce the minimum number of observations administrators must conduct and tweak the way student assessment data is used.

The changes mean administrators will not have to scramble to conduct lots of evaluations by June and also mean that more teachers may be judged based on assessments of students that they don’t directly teach.

The city will use the new evaluation system this year only to comply with the state requirement to assess teachers and principals while acknowledging that the pandemic has upended teaching and learning.

Last school year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo paused a state law that mandates those evaluations. But he has so far declined to issue a similar order this school year, despite ongoing pandemic-related disruptions and a request from the state’s education department. The evaluations are meant to help improve instruction, play a role in teacher tenure decisions, and may also be used as grounds to fire educators. (In practice, very few teachers are denied tenure or terminated due to poor ratings.)

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