The countdown to a new school year has begun and as parents collect new supplies and clothes, there are a few other things to remember. State legislators this year passed several new laws including those that may affect families with school-aged children. These laws become effective on Sept. 1, unless otherwise noted.
1. No texting while driving. Be mindful of school crossings and zones, and don’t forget to put the phone down. Drivers aren’t allowed to read, write, or send messages while operating a vehicle unless the vehicle is stopped. A violation comes with a fine of $25 to $99 for the first offense. A driver can, however, use a phone to control a car’s stereo system and to access a map app.
2. David’s Law. It is now a Class A misdemeanor—increased from Class B — to harass someone under 18 through text messages, social media, websites or any other electronic devices with an intent to cause them to harm themselves and commit suicide. Under the law, people can also get a temporary restraining order against social media accounts used to harass or bully children.
3. Free Pre-K for children of injured first responders. Children of peace officers, firefighters and emergency medical first responders who were seriously injured or killed in the line of duty can attend state-funded pre-kindergarten for free.
4. Schools can no longer suspend students below third grade. The new law cut out in-school and out-of-school suspensions. Instead, schools must find alternative age-appropriate disciplinary plans and provide models for positive behavior. Exceptions include students who bring a weapon, certain drugs or alcohol to school. This law is already in effect.
5. Awareness about human trafficking. Public junior colleges and career schools that offer commercial driver’s license training must include training on how to recognize and prevent human trafficking. This law is already in effect.
6. No more hungry students? Parents will have more time to settle their children’s school lunch debt before cafeteria workers stops serving hot lunches. There is a grace period for students without money to continue eating hot lunches before offered cold sandwiches.
7. Alternative path to a diploma. High school seniors who fail one or two end-of-course tests required for graduation could still get their diploma. Individual graduation committees can weigh whether a student should graduate based on factors such as grades in relevant subjects and attendance. The program is extended to continue until Sept. 1, 2021.