Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Several Louisiana school bills pass out of Senate committee

by BIZ Magazine

By Claire Sullivan, LSU Manship School News Services

BATON ROUGE–The Senate Committee on Education advanced several bills Thursday, including one prohibiting schools from disciplining students with physical force unless the parents give written consent for corporal punishment to be used.

The committee also advanced bills to grant civil immunity for teachers breaking up fights, encourage Bible classes in public schools and to require all public schools to display “In God We Trust” signs in classrooms.

Current state law allows public school teachers, principals and administrators to use corporal punishment on students, including “hitting, paddling, striking, spanking, slapping, or any other physical force that causes pain or physical discomfort,”

But use is up to the discretion of the school districts, and 27 of Louisiana’s 46 school systems ban corporal punishment, The Advocate reported in 2022.

House Bill 242, advanced Thursday would prohibit general use of corporal punishment at all schools, but it would allow parents sign a form saying school officials could physically discipline their child.

The bill was written by Rep. Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie. She attempted a similar bill last year, that narrowly failed to pass the House. This year, it passed the House 74-21.

The bill gives parents in districts that have not banned corporal punishment an option to opt in to physical discipline being used on their child.

“A child won’t come home from school with bruises that the parent doesn’t know why,” said Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, who presented the bill for Hilferty.

“Well, Sen. Mizell, I think the intent is for the child not to come home with these bruises, but to be disciplined,” Sen. Katrina R. Jackson, D-Monroe, who also supported the bill, replied. “Right, because we don’t want any child at home with bruises.”

“Right,” said Mizell.

Meanwhile, the Senate committee also advanced a bill Thursday that would grant teachers immunity from civil liability for breaking up fights or for choosing not to intervene to stop them.

The bill, authored by Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, makes an exception if “such act or failure to act was malicious and willfully and deliberately intended to cause bodily harm.”

“I believe the violence in the classroom, violence outside of the classroom is one of the reasons that we’re facing a teacher shortage is because they don’t feel safe,” Hodges said.

The bill had passed the House unanimously.

Another bill by Hodges that advanced would authorize public high schools to offer a course on the history and the literature of the Bible. It made it through the House earlier this month 87-10.

The course would be an elective, and schools would not be required to offer it. Hodges said she simply intended to clear up any confusion around whether schools were allowed to offer such a class.

“There’s really no other book in the world that contains as much history, historical significance as it does,” Hodges said. “Art, culture, law, history are profoundly influenced by the Bible.”

Holly Sanders, a candidate for the Lafayette Parish School Board, spoke in support of the bill. She said she has witnessed “a disturbing pivot in the moral compass of our society” in recent years.

“I feel it’s our responsibility as grandparents, parents, leaders, teachers to offer our students an elective that will introduce them to the teachings held dear by our Founding Fathers,” Sanders said.

In a similar vein, the committee advanced a bill by Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, that would require all public classrooms, including those in universities, to display the national motto of “In God We Trust” on poster that is at least 11-by-14 inches.

An amendment was added to give the bill a phase-in deadline of August 2026.

The current law requires the saying to be in every public school building.

Jacob Newsom, an Ascension Parish public school teacher, objected to the bill imposing a requirement instead of giving schools an option.

“Seems like a bit of an overstep,” he said. He added that “forcing everybody to do a certain thing, that seems to go against the spirit of the First Amendment.”

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