Legislative update: Key education bills advance

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(The Center Square) — Virginia’s 2024 General Assembly session is just over halfway finished, with 480 bills passed by the House of Delegates and 393 by the state Senate.

Some critical pieces of education legislation that have fared well so far; many will likely make it to the governor’s desk.

Legacy admissions, higher education – House Bill 48, introduced by Del. Dan Helmer, D-Fairfax, prohibits colleges and universities from considering a student’s legacy status (whether members of their family have attended or graduated from the college) or their relationship to college donors as part of their admissions process. Sen. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico, introduced a companion bill in the Senate. Both bills passed their respective committees and chambers unanimously but have not yet crossed over.

Cellphone policies – Bills relating to K-12 schools’ cellphone policies were introduced in both chambers by Del. Mark Earley, Jr., R-Chesterfield, and Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin. Earley’s bill would have required the state Department of Education to develop model policies for students’ cellphone use, but a committee voted it should be continued to 2025.

Stanley’s bill made it through the Senate with minimal objection. Only three Democrats voted against it in its passing vote. The bill would formally authorize school boards to implement cellphone bans prohibiting “the possession or use” of cell phones by students during regular school hours if they see fit. The bill has been referred to a House committee.

Overdose notification policies – Companion bills HB 1504 and Senate Bill 498 by Del. Holly Seibold, D-Fairfax, and Sen. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, respectively, passed their chambers unanimously after news broke this fall of nine opioid-related overdoses happening in one month at a Loudoun County High School. Compounding the issue, according to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration, was that the school reportedly waited more than 20 days to “inform parents despite clear evidence of numerous incidents of overdose among the students.”

The governor then issued an executive order in response, directing the Department of Education to issue guidance requiring notification of all school-division parents within 24 hours of such incidents. These bills echo the governor’s order, but enshrine the rule in Virginia law.

Other House and Senate bills require the Department of Education and the Department of Health to create a one-pager fentanyl awareness sheet to distribute to students annually.

Banning sexually explicit books – Companion bills by Del. Karrie Delaney, D-Fairfax, and Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Chesterfield, seek to prevent the easy banning of books by school boards — specifically, books that might be banned due to sexually explicit content.

School boards can still eliminate such books from their curricula, but they would need to do so through established channels rather than rely on the state Department of Education’s model policies on sexually explicit educational materials as a license for banning.

Delaney’s bill passed the House Committee on Education, and Hashmi’s passed the Senate 22-18, both with limited support from Republicans.

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