Second in a series of articles intended to clarify the contents of the Arkansas LEARNS Act.
AR BILL 237 “The LEARNS Act,” builds upon earlier education legislation. It amends various provisions of the Arkansas code as they relate to early childhood through grade twelve “and other purposes.”
Names the bill as the “LEARNS Act”
Concerns school resource officer requirements, which includes training in mental health.
Sets out the powers and duties of the State Board of Education.
The Board will administer the state’s early learning and education system, which shall include the administration of:
(A) Relevant rules related to administering funding, licensing, standards, and program requirements;
(B) Quality rating and improvement initiatives;
(C) Streamlining and burden reduction for families and providers. (This has to do with paperwork required to access COVID-19 relief money.)
Concerns the power of a school district board of directors to employ staff. Written employment contracts will be “in the form prescribed by the State Board of Education.”
Lists circumstances for increasing the salary of a school employee:
a bonus that is not added to the employee’s salary
an incentive bonus provided
(a) for National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification
(b) to a certified speech-language pathologist
(c) to a master principal
(d) under another specific provision of law
an increase in salary received as a result of the employee moving into a new position with substantially different job functions.
This is an entirely new section that spells out the powers of local school boards and district superintendents to hire and fire.
- the board of directors shall require the district superintendent to consult with teachers before making any decisions regarding the hiring or placement of a principal at their school.
- The superintendent is not required to follow recommendations made by the teachers.
- Hiring and firing decisions will be based on: Performance, Effectiveness, and Qualifications.
Effectiveness shall be used as the primary criterion for making personnel decisions.
Seniority and tenure shall not be used as the primary criterion.
This section also includes the specifics to be contained in an employee contract. In addition to stating duration of employment, specific duties, and annual salary or hourly wage, it addresses the employee’s right to:
notice of a recommendation for termination;
an opportunity for a hearing before the school’s board of directors.
This section, relating to a traveling teacher program, has been repealed.
This concerns school safety and mentions “open-enrollment charter schools” as well as “public schools.” It lays down rules for training and assessment regarding the safety of school children. I won’t attempt to enumerate each item. The enforcement of many of them is “subject to continued appropriation and funding.”
- All schools will conduct a yearly lockdown drill to prepare for a shooting event.
- Public schools shall provide current floor plans and pertinent emergency contact information to appropriate first responders.
- Public school administrators shall provide updated information annually.
- Training will address such topics as drugs and alcohol abuse, sexual assault, dating violence, bullying, cyberbullying, human trafficking, gangs, preventing the possession of weapons by minors, and responding to the threat of weapons at school.
Some of the desired training to be available to school staff:
- access to training in youth mental health for all school personnel who interact with students.
- mental health awareness training for all school staff .
- behavior threat assessment team.
- plans to increase the presence of uniformed law enforcement on all public school campuses at all times when school staff and children are attending class or during a major extracurricular activity.
- strategies to promote reporting of suspicious activity and behavior and threats.
- a comprehensive school safety assessment conducted every three years by all schools and reviewed by the local boards.
- training of school nurses for such emergencies as opioid overdose and bleeding.
The first eight sections of the LEARNS Act underscore the powers of the State Board of Education and local boards and superintendents.
They reflect a concern over the threats that hang over schools—violence from without and student malaise from within.
Finally, they put teachers on notice that their employment depends not upon educational qualifications or years of experience, but upon whatever meaning is ascribed to the word Effectiveness.