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2020 new laws | What’s new in education in California

New laws will affect school start times, charter schools, cell phone use in school, students with asthma medication and suicide prevention measures in California.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A new year means new laws in California, several of which will have effects on students and schools throughout the state. School start times will begin moving toward later hours, there will possibly be new regulations on cell phones in schools and schools with younger children will be required to implement suicide prevention measures under these new laws. Some of them go into effect immediately on Jan. 1, 2020 while others set a deadline in the future. 

Here's what to expect from new education laws in California heading into 2020.

SB 328  

Summary: School start times 

Current law: Under existing law, the governing board of each school district sets the length of the school day for the schools in the district in accordance with the law and education agencies are able to set their own start times.

What’s new: High school school days will need to start at 8:30 a.m. or later; middle school school days will need to start at 8 a.m. or later however schools will have time to implement the changes. The new start times will need to be in place by July 1, 2022, with exceptions for schools that have collective bargaining agreements with employees that expire later than that date. The measure also defines “school day” for the purposes of calculating attendance which affects state funding. Rural school districts are exempt from the new start times under the new law.  

Why it’s needed: Supporters of the new law point to science and research that shows later start times make kids healthier by letting them get more sleep and help them graduate. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended middle and high schools should start at 8:30 a.m. or later to give students the sleep they need.

SB 126

Summary: Policies for charter schools 

Current law: Traditional school district governing boards and their members currently abide by open meeting and conflict of interest policies and disclosure laws. Existing laws don't include requirements for charter school governing boards in regards to conflict of interest policies. 

What’s new: Charter schools and "any entity managing a charter school" will now have to follow the same types of policies and laws at traditional districts in regards to open meeting and conflict of interest policies and disclosure laws. Charter schools and their governing bodies will be held to the same conflict of interest standards as other school district governing boards. Charter school governing body members and employees will need to file statements of economic interest which could make public any potential conflicts of interest that individuals may have.  

Why it’s needed: Recent cases of charter school governing body members engaged in the mismanagement of finances indicated a need for conflict of interest laws to be clarified, according to those in support of it. 

AB 1767

Summary: Suicide prevention policies 

Current law: Under existing law, educational agencies or their governing boards serving grades 7 - 12 are required to adopt suicide prevention policies that address the needs of high-risk groups.

What’s new: The new law will extend the requirement for such suicide prevention policies to educational agencies or their governing boards serving grades kindergarten and 1 - 6 before the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. AB 1767 calls for the policies to be age-appropriate and delivered with sensitivity towards the needs of young students. The bill's author Assemblymember James C. Ramos said the policies will be developed by mental health professionals and suicide prevention experts along with school and community members.

Why it’s needed: Several statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control show growth in suicides among young children including those as young as five years old. A recent data brief from the agency indicated that suicide rates for people ages 10 - 14 nearly tripled from 2007 - 2017. In 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for the same age group. 

AB 272 

Summary: Use of smartphones in school 

Current law: Under existing law, school district boards can set rules limiting the possession and use of smartphones and other "electronic signaling devices" on their campuses and at school-sponsored events. 

What’s new: The new law will authorize school districts, county offices of education and charter schools to create policies limiting or prohibiting the use of smartphones by students while at school or at school-sponsored activities - except under certain circumstances. Regardless of what policy is set, students will be allowed to use their devices in emergency situations or when a threat of danger is perceived; if a doctor or surgeon determines a need for the phone related to health or well-being; or if the use/possession of a smartphone is required by a student's individualized education program.

Why it’s needed: Proponents of the bill point to evidence and research showing the role of phones in interfering with school work and success and hope schools will adopt policies that limit phone time. The bill's author also indicated that the use of phones in school has been correlated with encouraging cyberbullying and contributing to anxiety and depression in teenagers.

Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, said it's no coincidence that youth mental health issues have risen with the number of phones. Twenge said in her research teens told her that social media and phones felt "mandatory" and led to a loss of sleep and face-to-face interactions - both of which are important to mental well-being. 

AB 743

Summary: Self-administration of prescribed asthma medication by students 

Current law: Existing laws allow a school nurse or another member of school personnel to assist a student with asthma medication or the student can carry their medication and self-administer as long as the school district has a written statement from a doctor or surgeon with the specifics of the medication needed. The law also requires a written statement from a parent or guardian releasing the school and its personnel from liability if there is an adverse reaction by the student when self-administering. 

What’s new: The new law would expand on the existing one to allow that the written statement from a doctor or surgeon could come from a "prepaid health plan operating lawfully under the laws of Mexico that is licensed as a health care service plan" in California. It also requires that such a note would need to be written in Engish and in Spanish and include contact information for the doctor or surgeon. 

Why it’s needed: The author of the bill points to the unique needs of students in border towns where some working parents may be offered a bi-national insurance plan. While some may opt to seek medical treatment for their children in Mexico, the new law will allow for students to take medications prescribed in Mexico which were previously not allowed. 

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