by Maureen A. Lemon and Hayley Loufek
Like clockwork, new laws impacting school districts go into effect at the start of each new calendar year. This year has been no exception. We discussed many of these topics in depth at our fall School Law Conference, but this Article highlights a few new laws that have or will go into effect this year.
Local Government Efficiency Committees
One high profile enactment is the Decennial Committees on Local Government Efficiency Act (P.A. 102-1088). This Act requires units of local government including school districts that have levying power to establish a committee to assess local efficiencies. Your committee must be established by June 10, 2023. One established, the committee shall study its governing statutes, ordinances, rules, procedures, powers, jurisdiction, shared services, intergovernmental agreements and interrelationships with over governmental units and the state.
The committee must collect data, research, and analysis and prepare a report for the county board summarizing its findings and recommendations regarding local efficiencies. The committee shall be chaired by the school board president or superintendent, and its members must include the seven school board members, at least two appointed residents, the superintendent, and additional members who the chairperson of the committee may appoint as they deem appropriate. Once the committee has been established, it has 18 months in which to submit its present to the county board. Per the law, the committee will convene and repeat this process every 10 years.
Labor and Employment
Illinois also passed several bills concerning labor and employment matters in schools. One is a follow-up to Faith’s Law, which created requirements for school districts to prevent sexual abuse and misconduct. The updated law requires that when any license holder is dismissed or resigns because the school superintendent reasonably believes that the license holder has committed an intentional act of abuse or neglect against a child, that the school superintendent give notice to the ISBE and Regional Office of Education (“ROE”) in addition to the State Superintendent (P.A. 102-0702).
Further, school districts must now notify parents/guardians of an enrolled student with whom an employee, agent of the school, or a contractor of the school is alleged to have engaged in sexual misconduct or when the school board has taken formal action related to the employment of an alleged perpetrator. Parental notice procedures should include consideration of the time frame for providing notice if the alleged misconduct is also being investigated by DCFS, notifying the student first that notice will be given to their parent/guardian, and providing the student with school and community counseling service resources prior to notifying their parent/guardian.
Finally, the new law requires heightened review of the employment history of new-hire candidates whose positions would involve direct contact with children or students. The ISBE will create a template for schools to use to ensure that candidates do not have a history of sexual misconduct in a previous district. School districts may not hire applicants who fail to provide the required information on the template, which includes questions as to whether the applicant has ever been the subject of a sexual misconduct allegation, had their employment terminated due to sexual misconduct, or had their license or certificate compromised because of sexual misconduct. This law becomes effective July 1, 2023 (P.A. 102-0702).
The Family Bereavement Leave Act (formerly the “Child Bereavement Leave Act”) now requires employers to extend unpaid bereavement leave for certain pregnancy or adoption-related events, such as miscarriage, unsuccessful assisted reproductive technology procedure, failed adoption match, failed surrogacy agreement, diagnosis that negatively impacts pregnancy or fertility, or a stillbirth. The Act also extends leave for bereavement of “covered family members,” including an employee’s child, stepchild, spouse, domestic partner, sibling, parent, mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandchild, grandparent, or stepparent (P.A. 102-1050).
For the 2022-23 school year only, school districts are allowed to waive the evaluation requirement of any teacher in contractual continued service whose performance was rated either “excellent” or “proficient” during the last school year in which the teacher was evaluated since the Governor has declared a disaster due to a public health emergency (P.A. 102-0729).
There are several new laws in effect aimed at addressing staffing issues in schools. As of January 1, 2023, applicants for a Substitute Teaching License can now obtain a license if they are enrolled in an approved educator preparation program in Illinois and have earned at least 90 credit hours (P.A. 102-0711). Additionally, the age requirement for paraprofessionals serving Pre-K through 8th grade has been lowered to 18 (P.A. 102-0713). Finally, suspension of a drivers’ license solely for non-payment of child support does not bar an applicant from receiving a school bus driver permit (P.A. 102-0717).
In addition to new curriculum requirements, there is also new legislation regarding various other student issues. For one, the legislature amended the School Code to provide that textbook fees and all other school fees and fines are to be waived for homeless students. The updates define “school fee” as any monetary charge from a student or parent/guardian as a prerequisite for the student’s participation in any curricular or extracurricular program as defined in ISBE Rules 1.245(a)(1) and (2). Schools must give notice of waiver availability to parents/guardians with every bill for fees or fines, and are also prohibited from withholding student records, transcripts, or diplomas due to a student’s parent or guardian’s inability to pay required fees. The legislative updates provide that at the end of each school year, the school district shall catalogue and report to the ISBE the total amount that remains unpaid by students due to this prohibition (P.A. 102-0805).
Middle and high school students are now permitted at least one excused absence per school year to engage in a “civic event,” which is defined as “an event sponsored by a non-profit organization or governmental entity that is open to the public” and “includes, but is not limited to, an artistic or cultural performance or educational gathering that supports the mission of the sponsoring non-profit organization.” Schools may require reasonable advance notice of the student’s intended absence as well as documentation of participation in the civic event (P.A. 102-0981).
Another update to the School Code includes planning for post-secondary education, engaging in related or relevant career and technical education coursework, and assisting students in determining appropriate postsecondary plans in the list of school counseling services that may be offered (P.A. 102-0876).
Overall, there are several significant legislative updates that require thought and planning to implement. Please reach out to your attorneys to get more details on these laws and how to implement them in your school district.