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Parental notification bill clears Senate, awaits House committee action

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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.

Here’s the second part of some important pieces of education legislation that have fared well so far. Many will likely make it to the governor’s desk.

Student online account data: Senate Bill 264 from Sen. Christie New Craig, R-Chesapeake, is another parental notification bill, creating restrictions on how schools collect students’ online activity and requiring parents’ informed consent of their related policies. Schools that don’t track students’ online activity must simply relay that to the state Department of Education. For schools that do, parents would have access to the data and would be notified, in certain cases, of an alert before the student.

The bill would also prohibit student online activity from being included in students’ permanent records, “except in the most extreme cases, as defined… by the Department.”

Senate Bill 264 passed the chamber unanimously and awaits committee action in the House.

Bullying: House Bill 536 was introduced by Del. Joshua Cole, D-Fredericksburg, and would expand the definition of bullying in the Code of Virginia by enumerating groups of students often targeted by bullies. The bill was written not to tell schools how to handle such instances of bullying, but to prompt schools to proactively develop policies for how to respond when they occur.

Campus safety, higher education: Companion bills were introduced in the House and Senate requiring Virginia public colleges and universities to deliver campus safety training to students before the end of their first semester focusing on active shooter scenarios. House Bill 713, patroned by Del. Luke Torian, D-Prince William, and Senate Bill 613 by Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Washington, passed their respective chambers unanimously and have crossed over.

Student to counselor ratio: This bill, introduced by Del. Michael Feggans, D-Virginia Beach, was continued by an appropriations subcommittee to 2025 after making it through the House Education Committee, as it will require significant funding. It would have reduced the student to school counselor ratio from 325:1 to 250:1, due to the number of students that struggle with mental health.

English language learners: Companion bills to increase the number of teachers for English language learning students were introduced in the House and Senate by Del. Michelle Maldonado, D-Prince William, and Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Chesterfield. The ELL student population is very high in some areas of Virginia, and the bills would supply funding to hire more teachers based on English language proficiency levels.

Maldonado’s bill passed the House 58-41, and Hashmi’s bill unanimously passed the Senate.

Literacy: Companion bills were introduced in the House and Senate spelling out what is not part of the “evidence-based literacy instruction” the Virginia Literacy Act was designed to promote. The legislation also directs the Department of Education to provide more explicit guidance on what literacy instruction and intervention programs will look like for grades K-8 and attempts to hold local school districts’ feet to the fire in carrying out the new requirements.

House Bill 647, introduced by Del. Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield, passed the House unanimously and has crossed over to the Senate. Senate Bill 624 by Sen. Lousie Lucas, D-Portsmouth, passed the chamber unanimously and is now in the House.

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