Legislative Package Focuses on Safer Classrooms, Teacher Empowerment, Accountability
News Release, House Minority Caucus
ANNAPOLIS, MD– The House Minority Caucus today unveiled a series of educations bills focused on making classrooms safer, empowering teachers, expanding accountability, and freeing students trapped in chronically failing schools. This comprehensive legislative package will provide immediate relief to students and teachers in classrooms today, not a decade or more in the future.
“Today we are addressing the real and immediate problems, and in some cases, outright dangers, faced by our students and teachers in classrooms every single day,” said House Minority Leader Nic Kipke. “Issues of safety and discipline are the top concerns we hear from students, parents, and teachers in our communities and Kirwan does absolutely nothing to address them. This legislative session has been dominated by billion-dollar education proposals that might fix problems many years from now – but what about the students and teachers in Maryland schools today? Who is looking out for them?”
“The Kirwan Commission has taken years to develop a $30 billion plan that will supposedly improve schools many years down the road,” said House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga. “Our proposals will have an immediate and meaningful impact on students and teachers in classrooms as early as the next school year, if not before.”
Right to Teach Act of 2020
“When I ask parents what they are most concerned about when it comes to their children’s education, their consistent concern is disruptive students,” said Delegate Matt Morgan. “There are students in their children’s classrooms who are regularly disruptive, often to the point where no real teaching can occur and no one can possibly learn. This isn’t run-of-the-mill disruption. This isn’t talking when they’re supposed to be listening or passing notes in class. This is yelling, arguing, fighting, and even assaulting teachers and other students.”
Modeled after a long-standing program in Texas, the Right to Teach Act of 2020 would allow teachers to remove from their classrooms that has established patterns of disruptive behavior. School administrators would not be allowed to return a student to that classroom without the approval of the teacher.
“Right now teachers are finding themselves trapped in scenarios where they get little support from their administrations and have no recourse but to allow disruptive students back into their classrooms, knowing they will continue their behavior,” said Delegate Morgan. “The Right to Teach Act immediately empowers teachers and puts them back in control of their classrooms.”
Good Teacher Protection Act
The Good Teacher Protection Act provides civil immunity for teachers and school officials who take reasonable actions to stop violence in schools and their classrooms.
“When it comes to keeping our children safe, our educators should not have to worry that taking action to prevent or stop violent acts by students could lead to them losing their livelihood through a lawsuit,”
said Delegate Dan Cox. “Teachers and school staff taking reasonable actions to keep our children safe deserve protection under the law.”
Predator-Free Schools Act of 2020
Recent headlines have featured the horrific case of a 21-year-old registered sex offender, who had already been convicted of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl, was attending Parkville High School when he was arrested in December for second-degree rape. This time, his alleged victim is a 15-year-old Baltimore County student.
Under current law, registered sex offenders are prohibited from entering the property of a school unless they are a student at the school. In that case, they must have written permission from the school administration or superintendent.
The Predator-Free Schools Act of 2020 is an emergency bill prohibiting registered sex offenders from attending traditional public schools. This bill will require local boards of education to establish alternate education plans that keep students who are registered sex offenders completely separate from our children.
“It is unconscionable that a registered sex offender was attending school with young girls, all potential victims,” said Delegate Nino Mangione. “The administrators responsible for this decision exhibited horrendously bad judgment. There is no question that registered sex offenders should never be permitted to attend schools with our children, and this bill will make that happen.”
Accountability in Education Act of 2020
Across the state, citizens have been outraged by reports of waste, fraud, and abuse within school systems. Recently, in Baltimore County, a whistleblower has come forward alleging that cabinets full of financial records were shredded by officials at a time when the county school system was undergoing a financial audit. The school system has acknowledged that documents were destroyed, but there are no records as to what was shredded or who authorized their destruction.
“Last year, our state took a tremendous step forward by establishing the office of the Inspector General for Education,” said Delegate Szeliga. “But with the level of deceit and defiance exhibited by some of the school systems in this state, it is clear this new Inspector General will need all possible tools at their disposal.”
The Accountability in Education Act of 2020 strengthens the authority of the inspector general. The legislation expands the scope of what the Inspector General can investigate and also expands the types of documents and records that must be made available to the IG over the course of an investigation.
The bill also establishes a hotline that teachers can use to report discipline issues ignored or not adequately addressed by school administrators.
“I have had conversations with educators who feel powerless in their classrooms,” said Delegate Szeliga. “They do not get the support from their school administrators to deal with students who are chronically disruptive, but they are fearful of losing their jobs should they come forward. This hotline will provide them with direct access to the Inspector General’s office.”
Right to Learn Act of 2020
“Beyond the scandals, headlines, and indictments, there is an often-overlooked tragedy in our school systems; that of students trapped in failing schools,” said Delegate Fisher. “There are schools in Maryland that, for a variety of circumstances, are failing our children. These students should not have to struggle a day longer in a school that is not meeting their needs. There has to be a way out for these students.”
The Right to Learn Act of 2020 frees Maryland students who are trapped in chronically failing schools by giving them alternative options. The bill defines a Failing School as one that has received a 1-Star rating from the Maryland Department of Education for three consecutive years. The parent/guardian of a student attending a failing school must be offered the opportunity to move to another school within the jurisdiction that has a minimum of 2 stars or the opportunity of taking a Right to Learn Scholarship to attend a private school. Families may choose to stay in the 1-star school if they wish. For each student using the Right to Learn Scholarship, their local board of education must pay into the fund an amount equivalent to the state and local per-pupil spending for that jurisdiction. Any excess dollars not expended are returned to the jurisdiction of origin. These are education dollars following the students who need them.
“The students and teachers in Maryland’s schools today need solutions to the challenges they face today,” said Delegate Nic Kipke. “We are glad that some of the proposals we have outlined today have already received bipartisan support and we are hopeful that we can move forward to provide our children a quality education in an environment that is safe and supportive for them and their teachers.”