Developments from the 2023 Session of the Connecticut General Assembly Affecting Public Schools
The 2023 Regular Session of the Connecticut General Assembly concluded on June 7, 2023. The following is a brief description of acts that were passed by the General Assembly that may be of interest to Connecticut’s K-12 schools. This year’s session featured important changes to existing law in the areas of school climate, teacher evaluation, multilingual education, SRO agreements, staff training requirements, Title IX and special education among other topics.
In the coming weeks, please be sure to visit and subscribe to our blog – Education Law Notes – for our take on the key impacts of this year’s legislation and action items that boards of education, charter and private schools and other K-12 educational institutions should take to implement the legal changes outlined below.
As always, please feel free to reach out to any of our school law attorneys if you have questions regarding a particular piece of legislation.
LEGISLATION AFFECTING EDUCATION AND EDUCATIONAL ENTITIES
Age of Kindergarten Entry and Early Childhood
Public Act 23-159: An Act Concerning Teachers and Paraeducators addresses a variety of topics as explained throughout this summary. With respect to kindergarten entry, commencing with the 2024-25 school year the Act effectively raises the age at which children may start kindergarten by providing that all children five years of age and over who reach age five on or before the first day of September of any school year shall be eligible to enroll in the public schools. Currently, the law provides that all children five years of age and over who reach age five on or before the first day of January of any school year are eligible to enroll in school. The Act does not change existing law with respect to the requirement that all children must be enrolled in school by age seven.
Public Act 23-208: An Act Making Certain Revisions to the Education Statutes also addresses a wide-variety of education law issues as explained throughout this summary. With respect to the age of kindergarten entry, the Act expands on the changes described above in Public Act 23-159 by amending the process by which children who have not reached the age of five on or before the first day of September in any school year may nonetheless be enrolled in school. Under the new law, children under the age of five may be admitted into school early upon parent or guardian written request to the school principal followed by an assessment of the child by the school principal and an appropriate certified staff member to ensure that admitting such child is developmentally appropriate. As such, the new law will eliminate the existing requirement that children under the age of five may only be admitted into school early upon a board of education vote. This change takes effect July 1, 2024.
Public Act 23-160: An Act Concerning Education Mandate Relief and Other Technical and Assorted Revisions and Additions to the Education and Early Childhood Education Statutes includes a number of changes regarding early childhood programs. First, the Act expands the definition of “eligible children” for purposes of school readiness programs to include children from birth to four years of age, inclusive, and children five years of age who are not eligible to enroll in school. This is a change from existing law which limited eligibility to children between the ages of three and five who were not yet eligible to enroll in school. It became effective July 1, 2023.
Additionally, also effective July 1, 2023, Public Act 23-160 added another responsibility to the list of the Office of Early Childhood’s long list of responsibilities by requiring the Office to establish “a parent cabinet to advise the office on ways to strengthen partnership and communication with families, bring awareness to gaps and barriers to services, increase access to services for families and help make improvements to the lives of young children and families in the state.”
School Climate and Bullying
Public Act 23-167: An Act Concerning Transparency in Education makes several changes and additions to the Connecticut General Statutes dealing with safe school climate and bullying. It expands the scope of what may constitute prohibited conduct, adds responsibilities to administrators and elevates the responsibility of boards of education to address bullying in the modern era.
Expanded School Climate Definitions
Public Act 23-167 re-defines “bullying” to cover a wider spectrum of conduct. Under the new law bullying is defined as “unwanted and aggressive behavior among children in grades kindergarten to twelve, inclusive, that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” Nothing in the new definition requires that behavior must be repeated, persistent or pervasive to constitute bullying. Instead, it appears that a single incident is sufficient to constitute bullying under this new law.
The Act also introduces the term “challenging behavior” and defines it as “behavior that negatively impacts school climate or interferes, or is at risk of interfering, with the learning or safety of a student or the safety of a school employee.”
Additionally, the Act re-defines the existing term “school climate” to mean “the quality and character of the school life, with a particular focus on the quality of the relationships within the school community, and which is based on patterns of people’s experiences of school life and that reflects the norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching, learning, leadership practices and organizational structures within the school community.”
Public Act 23-167 appears to also expand the scope of activities and locations requiring school district intervention to address school climate issues. The Act uses the new term “school environment” and defines it to mean a “school-sponsored or school-related activity, function or program, whether on or off school grounds, including at a school bus stop or on a school bus or other vehicle owned, leased or used by a board of education, and may include other activities, functions or programs that occur outside of a school-sponsored or school-related activity, function or program if bullying at or during such other activities, functions or programs negatively impacts the school environment.”
Similarly, the new term “school community” is defined very broadly, to include “any individuals, groups, businesses, public institutions and nonprofit organizations that are invested in the welfare and vitality of a public school system and the community in which it is located, including, but not limited to, students and their families, members of the local or regional board of education, volunteers at school and school employees.”
Whereas prior law required boards of education to create and enforce a “safe school climate plan,” Public Act 23-167 now requires the creation and enforcement of a “school climate improvement plan.” This term means:
“[A] building-specific plan developed by the school climate committee, in collaboration with the school climate specialist, using school climate survey data and any other relevant information, through a process that engages all members of the school community and involves such members in a series of overlapping systemic improvements, school-wide instructional practices and relational practices that prevent, identify and respond to challenging behavior, including but not limited to alleged bullying and harassment in the school environment.” (emphasis added).
The “school climate survey” referenced above is itself defined as “a research-based, validated and developmentally appropriate survey administered to students, school employees and families of students, in the predominant languages of the members of the school community, that measures and identifies school climate needs and tracks progress through a school climate improvement plan.” Thus, by the plain language of the Act, a school district will be required to prepare and issue a school climate survey and use the results of such survey to prepare its “school climate improvement plan.”
School Climate Advisory Collaborative
The Act requires that the School Climate Advisory Collaborative, which already exists under existing law and is comprised of various education and legislative stakeholders, convene a subcommittee by no later than February 1, 2024 to (1) develop Connecticut school climate standards based on nationally recognized school climate research and best practices; (2) create a uniform bullying complaint form to be included by the Connecticut State Department of Education (“CSDE”) on its website, the websites of boards of education, and in each board’s student handbooks; and (3) provide guidance to boards of education on the implementation of the Connecticut school climate policy.
The School Climate Coordinator
Public Act 23-167 amends existing law by specifically defining which personnel can serve as district-level school climate coordinators and by expanding the responsibilities of the role. For the school year commencing July 1, 2025 and continuing thereafter, the superintendent or administrative designee shall serve as the school climate coordinator. This person shall be responsible for (1) providing district-level leadership and support for the implementation of the school climate improvement plan, which must be developed by the board; (2) collaborating with the school climate specialist(s) to prevent, identify and respond to challenging behavior, including bullying and harassment; (3) collecting and maintaining data regarding school climate improvement, including disciplinary records, school climate assessments, attendance rates and types of bullying and challenging behaviors; and (4) meeting with the school climate specialist(s) at least twice per year to identify strategies to improve school climate, including but not limited to responding to challenging behavior; proposing recommendations for revisions to the school climate improvement plan and assisting with the completion of the school climate survey.
School Climate Specialists
Public Act 23-167 changes the title of “safe school climate specialist” to “school climate specialist” starting July 1, 2025. The person holding such position must be the school’s principal, or a school employee holding a professional certification who is trained in school climate improvement or restorative practices. The school climate specialist shall be responsible for (1) leading the prevention, identification and response to challenging behavior, including bullying and harassment; (2) implementing restorative practices; (3) scheduling meetings for and leading the school climate committee; and (4) leading the implementation of the school climate improvement plan.
School Climate Committees
Public Act 23-167 maintains existing parameters for school climate committees but amends their responsibilities. Each school climate specialist is required to appoint a school climate committee made up of members who are racially, culturally and linguistically diverse and representative of the community. This committee must consist of (1) the school climate specialist; (2) a teacher selected by the teachers’ union; (3) a demographically representative group of students enrolled at the school; (4) families of students enrolled at the school; and (5) other members of the school community, as determined by the school climate specialist.
The school climate committee shall be responsible for (1) assisting in the development, annual scheduling and administration of the school climate survey; (2) using the school climate survey data to identify strengths and challenges to improve school climate and to create or propose revisions to the school climate improvement plan; (3) assisting in the implementation of the school climate improvement plan; (4) advising on strategies to improve school climate; (5) annually providing notice of the uniform bullying complaint; and (6) engaging the school community, at meetings held at least twice per year, in the implementation of the school climate improvement plan.
School Climate Surveys and School Climate Improvement Plans
As noted above, the Act requires that school districts prepare and issue an annual school climate survey that will be used in the preparation of the school climate improvement plan. With respect to school climate improvement plans, starting on July 1, 2025 and continuing each year thereafter, the school climate specialist(s) and the school climate coordinator must develop and update a school climate improvement plan. This plan must be, among other things, based on the results of the school climate survey and any recommendations from the school climate committee. This plan must be submitted to the school climate coordinator for review on or before December 31 of each year.
Once approved, a written and electronic copy must be made available to members of the school community and must be used in the prevention of, identification of and response to challenging behavior. This plan must also align with the Connecticut school climate standards to be developed as described above and involve protocols and supports to enhance classroom safety and address “challenging behavior.”
At a minimum, these protocols and supports must specify:
- the contact information of an administrator designated by the school climate specialist to be notified by school employees of any incidents of “challenging behavior” that results in student discipline or removal from class, and the contact information of any other administrator or school employee to be notified of such incidents in the absence of the designated administrator;
- For a single incident, the school principal shall notify the parents of each student involved in such incident (in a manner that complies with FERPA);
- For a subsequent incident, the school shall invite the parents or guardians of each student involved in such incident to a meeting, either in person or virtually, to discuss the specific supports or interventions that are applicable; and
- For multiple subsequent incidents or a single incident that causes severe harm, the school principal shall provide notice to the parents or guardians of each student involved of other resources for supports and interventions;
- For a single incident, the school principal shall notify the parents of each student involved in such incident (in a manner that complies with FERPA);
- For a subsequent incident, the school shall invite the parents or guardians of each student involved in such incident to a meeting, either in person or virtually, to discuss the specific supports or interventions that are applicable; and
- For multiple subsequent incidents or a single incident that causes severe harm, the school principal shall provide notice to the parents or guardians of each student involved of other resources for supports and interventions;
- a requirement that the superintendent submit, at least annually, to the board of education a report concerning the number of incidents that occurred during the prior year, the grade level of each student involved in such incidents and the supports, services or interventions provided in response to such incidents to address the needs of students and school employees;
- for incidents of challenging behavior, (A) a requirement for a meeting between an administrator and the school employee who witnesses such incident, not later than two days after the date of such incident, to determine the supports and interventions required to address the needs of students and employees (interventions for a student receiving special education services shall be done through the child’s IEP); and (B) a process by which a teacher may request a behavior intervention meeting.
For the school year commencing July 1, 2024 and each school year thereafter, the Act requires each board of education to provide resources and training regarding social and emotional learning, school climate and culture and researched-based interventions, including restorative practices, to school employees. (Restorative practices are defines as those which hold each student accountable for challenging behaviors and those that ensure each such student has a role in repairing relationships and reintegration into the school community.) Any school employee may participate in any such training offered by the board. The school climate coordinator shall select and approve the individuals or organizations that will provide such training. The CSDE shall provide, within available appropriations, annual training to the school climate coordinator, the school climate specialist and members of the school climate committee.
Restorative Practices Response Policy
Effective July 1, 2025, and each school year thereafter, the Act provides that each school district must adopt a restorative practices response policy to be implemented by school employees for incidents of challenging behavior or student conflict that are nonviolent and do not constitute a crime. Such policy must not involve the police unless the behavior escalates to violence or constitutes a crime.
Claims for Damages
Consistent with existing law, the Act maintains the provision that no claim for damages shall be made against a school employee who reports incidents of bullying or teen violence in accordance with the school’s climate improvement plan. Similarly, no such claim shall be made against a student or parent who reports any such incident. Finally, no claim for damages shall be made against a board of education that implements a school climate improvement plan and responds to complaints of bullying and teen violence.
For the 2023-24 and 2024-25 school years, each board of education may adopt the Connecticut school climate policy as set forth above in Public Act 23-167, in lieu of following the mandates of the current bullying law. As such, boards of education that do not adopt the policy in such time must continue to comply with current law. However, beginning with the 2025-26 school year, and for each year thereafter, all districts must adhere to the new statutory criteria and definitions above. At that time, now-existing statutory provisions addressing bullying and safe-school climate shall be repealed and replaced with the definitions and requirements summarized above.
Teacher Evaluation, Certification, Professional Development and Retention
Public Act 23-159 makes a number of changes to teacher evaluation requirements. Most notably, commencing with the 2024-25 school year, each board of education shall be required to adopt and implement a new teacher evaluation and support program that is consistent with new program guidelines to be developed by the Connecticut State Board of Education (“CSBE”). The Act provides that the new CSBE evaluation guidelines must include various provisions that differ from existing CSBE evaluation program guideline requirements and charges the CSBE with developing a new model evaluation and support program consistent with the new guidelines.
Specifically, the new CSBE guidelines must abandon existing guideline requirements concerning the required use of “exemplary,” “proficient,” “developing” and “below standard” evaluation designations and scoring systems, and additionally must eliminate the requirement that teachers who are placed on an improvement and remediation plan achieve a summative rating of “proficient” or better immediately at the conclusion of such plan. Instead, for teachers placed on an improvement and remediation plan, the new guidelines will simply require that such improvement plans include “indicators of success immediately at the conclusion of the improvement and remediation plan” rather than any specific rating benchmark.
The new guidelines will also include more a more subtle change. The existing requirement that evaluation programs include indicators and methods for assessing “student academic growth and development” is replaced with the requirement that evaluation programs include indicators and methods for assessing “student learning, growth and achievement.”
As was the case under existing law, district-level programs implementing the new CSBE evaluation guidelines are to be developed through mutual agreement between the board of education and the professional development and evaluation committee for the district, with the proviso that if agreement cannot be reached on such a program, then the board of education and professional development and evaluation committee must first consider adoption of a model professional development and evaluation program to-be developed by the CSBE, and then, if agreement cannot be reached on adopting the CSBE model, the board of education is empowered to adopt a program unilaterally so long as such program is consistent with CSBE guidelines. Notwithstanding these procedural requirements, the Act grants the Commissioner of the CSDE the authority to waive compliance with the new evaluation program adoption requirements for any board of education that requests a waiver prior to July 1, 2024.
Effective July 1, 2023, the Act also amends the law with respect to teachers who are not evaluated during a school year to provide that such teachers be designated as “not evaluated” for the year rather than “not rated.” This change appears to be designed to align with existing statutory language which requires superintendents to annually report to their employing boards of education on the number of teachers “not evaluated” by June first of each year. In connection with annual reporting, the Act also eliminates the requirement that superintendents report on aggregate evaluation ratings as part of their annual reporting obligations to their employing boards of education.
Finally, effective July 1, 2023, the Act amends existing law to require boards of education to conduct training programs for all evaluators and orientation for all teachers on local teacher evaluation and support programs on an annual rather than biennial basis. Boards of education are responsible for conducting such training programs for all new evaluators prior to any evaluations being conducted by such evaluators and must provide orientation to all new teachers hired by the board before such teachers receive an evaluation.
Teacher Certification and Preparation Programs
Public Act 23-159 also amended the law with respect to elementary education teaching certification endorsements by granting the Commissioner of the CSDE the authority to permit teachers possessing a grade one to six elementary education endorsement that was issued on or after July 1, 2017 the ability to teach kindergarten for up to two years upon the request of a superintendent. The law also now will provide that a comprehensive special education endorsement for grades one to twelve shall be valid for prekindergarten as well as kindergarten.
Additionally, effective July 1, 2023 the Act amended existing law for teacher preparation programs by eliminating the requirement that student teachers obtain clinical experience, field experience or student teaching experience in both school districts with high district reference group (“DRG”) classifications as well as low DRG classifications. Instead, the law now simply provides that teacher preparation programs must require clinical experience, field experience or student teaching experience without designating where such experience must be obtained.
The Act also grants the CSDE the authority, in consultation with the Office of Higher Education, to authorize that the Integrated Early Childhood/Special Ed., Birth–Kindergarten endorsement and the Integrated Early Childhood/Elementary Education N-3 and Special Education N-K endorsement be added as a cross endorsement in lieu of requiring full planned program and institutional recommendation.
Effective July 1, 2023, Public Act 23-159 permits boards of education to employ persons who lack substitute teacher authorizations as substitute teachers in the same assignment for a period not to exceed sixty school days. Prior to this change, Connecticut teacher certification regulations only permitted persons employed as substitutes to serve for less than forty school days in the same assignment without substitute teacher authorization (subject to limited exceptions for persons awaiting certification conversion or a certificate of eligibility). Presumably, such certification regulation provisions will be amended to comply with the provisions of the new law.
By January 1, 2024 Public Act 23-159 requires boards of education to develop an exit survey to be completed by each teacher who voluntarily ceases employment with such board. Such exit surveys must include questions relating to the reason why such teacher is ceasing employment, if such teacher is leaving the teaching profession, the demographics of such teacher and the subject areas in which such teacher taught. The results of such surveys along with teacher attrition rates must then be annually reported in board of education strategic school profile reports.
Teachers’ Retirement System
Effective July 1, 2023, Public Act 23-159 amended Teachers’ Retirement System (“TRS”) provisions to allow TRS’ members to purchase unlimited service credit for service spent prior to July 1, 2007 as a member of the staff of the State Education Resource Center in a professional capacity while possessing a certificate or permit issued by the CSBE. In addition, the Act also expands the definition of a “public school” for purposes of TRS’ benefits to include any school operated by an interdistrict magnet school on and after July 1, 2023 and further provides that each school operated by Goodwin University Magnet Schools, Inc., and Goodwin University Educational Services, Inc. shall specifically qualify as a “public school” for purposes of TRS’ benefits with each teacher employed by either entity directly admitted into the TRS.
The Act additionally establishes a task force to analyze the per pupil equity of funding the TRS. The task force shall be comprised of members designated by various leaders of the General Assembly and education stake holder groups and is charged with reporting its findings to the Education and Appropriations committees of the General Assembly by January 1, 2025.
Section 318 of the Implementer Act (Public Act 23-204) also amends the definition of “teacher” with respect to TRS’ eligibility to include (1) a member of the professional staff employed at the State Board of Education, (2) the governing body of the public school, kindergarten to grade twelve, inclusive, who is currently a member in the system and maintains a certification, and (3) a member of the professional staff employed in an educational role at the Office of Early Childhood, the Board of Regents for Higher Education or any of the constituent units and the Technical Education and Career System (“CTECS”). This change became effective July 1, 2023.
Adjunct Professor Permit
Beginning on July 1, 2023, Public Act 23-167 permits the CSBE to issue an adjunct professor permit to any person who is a nontenured and part time instructor employed by a public or independent institution of higher education in Connecticut. This permit will enable the person to be employed by a board of education and hold a part time position of not more than twenty-five classroom hours per week to teach in grades nine to twelve of a public school and to provide instruction as part of college and career readiness programming offered by such board, including an early college experience and advanced placement classes. Each permit is valid for three years.
The person holding such position shall be under the supervision of the local superintendent or administrator so designated, who shall regularly observe, guide and evaluate the performance of the individual’s duties. Any board employing such a person must provide a program to assist the person, which shall include academic and classroom support services. The person shall further become a member of the collective bargaining unit for certified employees and shall be subject to the certified employees’ collective bargaining agreement. However, no such person shall displace any person holding a teaching certificate.
Educator Apprenticeship Initiative
Starting with the 2023-2024 fiscal year, Public Act 23-167 requires the CSDE to establish an educator apprenticeship initiative that enables students enrolled in an educator preparation program, residency program or alternate route to certification program to gain classroom teaching experience while working toward becoming full-time, certified teachers upon successful completion of such program. The CSDE shall establish participation and administrative guidelines for participation in these programs and compensation levels for students who enroll.
The CSDE may permit a person enrolled in a residency program to participate in the educator apprenticeship initiative upon the request of the superintendent in whose school district the person is employed or assigned as part of the residency program. Upon the successful completion of such program and with the recommendation of the superintendent, the CSBE shall issue an initial educator certificate to such person without the person having to complete otherwise mandated examination requirements.
Increasing Educator Diversity Plan
Public Act 23-176 requires school districts to, by March 15, 2024, submit an increasing educatory diversity plan to the Commissioner of Education for review and approval. The Commissioner may approve such plan or return the plan to the board of education for revision. Any plan that is not approved must be revised by May 15, 2024. For the school year commencing July 1, 2024, and each year thereafter, boards of education must implement the plan approved by the Commissioner and make such plan available on the board’s website. The CSDE shall also make board of education diversity plans available on its website.
Connecticut Advisory Council for Teacher Professional Standards
Also, effective July 1, 2023, Public Act 23-159 expanded and changed the composition of the membership of the Connecticut Advisory Council for Teacher Professional Standards to expressly include, a school administrator, a regional school district superintendent, special education and secondary school teachers and the Connecticut “Teacher of the Year” for the current and preceding year. The Council is responsible for reviewing and advising the CSBE, the Governor and the General Assembly’s Education Committee on regulatory and other issues relating to teacher preparation, teacher recruitment, teacher retention, teacher certification, teacher professional development, teacher assessment and evaluation and teacher professional discipline.
Finally, Public Act 23-159 also provides that the preservice performance assessment, “edTPA,” as adopted by the CSBE on December 7, 2016, shall be used exclusively as an accountability tool for teacher preparation programs offered by Connecticut institutions of higher education. The results of such edTPA assessment shall not be used to deny a prospective educator’s initial educator certificate.
Public Act 23-137: An Act Concerning Resources And Support Services For Persons With An Intellectual Or Developmental Disability – which provisions became effective July 1, 2023 except where otherwise indicated -- requires the CSDE to employ a statewide transition services coordinator to coordinate the provision of transition resources, services, and public transition programs (including those programs provided by boards of educations and regional educational service centers (“RESCs”)), in collaboration with other state agencies. Among the duties of the coordinator are establishing minimum standards for public transition programs (and metrics for measuring them), setting best practices for providing transition services (and distributing them to each school district’s transition coordinator), performing unannounced visits at public transition programs to determine their effectiveness and offer improvements and to post data on the CSDE website about the how the program measured against the CSDE’s minimum standards, establishing minimum standards for training school district transition coordinators (and maintaining a record of each coordinator’s training program completion), and developing a course on the CSDE website for educators and staff who do not provide transition services to provide them with information about transition services. The Act requires agencies that have MOUs with the CSDE to each appoint a liaison to the CSDE’s transition services coordinator, and also provides that such MOUs shall address transition programs.
The Act requires the CSDE to develop by July 1, 2024 a training program on special education and transition services legal requirements and best practices; this training program is to be delivered via on-demand, on-line course and in person, at the CSDE’s discretion.
The Act requires the State Education Resource Center (“SERC”) to develop and maintain an online listing of the transition resources, services, and programs that state agencies provide. The CSDE’s state-wide transition coordinator is then (after ensuring its accuracy) to post a link to the online listing on the CSDE website and to distribute a notice concerning the on-line listing to school districts, who in turn are then required to annually distribute the notice to parents at Planning and Placement Team (“PPT”) meetings for students in grades six through twelve.
The Act requires the CSDE (in consultation with other state entities and RESCs) to develop by July 1, 2024 a training program on public transition programs for school district transition coordinators, educators and school paraprofessionals; such training program shall comply with the minimum standards established by the state-wide transition services coordinator. Thereafter, each RESC shall provide the training program at no cost to school district transition coordinators, educators and school paraprofessionals who provide transition services and any other educators/school staff interested in becoming a transition coordinator or providing transition services.
The Act requires each school district to designate a transition coordinator for the district by January 1, 2024; the coordinator may be the director of pupil personnel or another employee appointed as transition coordinator by said director. Each school district level transition coordinator shall 1) complete the training program developed by the CSDE, provided a) each transition coordinator appointed prior to the date upon which the training program commences shall complete the training program during the three-year period immediately following such date, and b) each new transition coordinator appointed after such date shall complete the training program not later than one year after being appointed, and 2) ensure that parents of students requiring special education receive information concerning transition resources, transition services or public transition programs (specifically, the afore-mentioned on-line listing developed by SERC) and are aware of the eligibility requirements and application details of such resources, services and programs that specifically apply to such student. Furthermore, the Act provides that each educator and school paraprofessional who provides special education for students fourteen years of age or older shall complete the training program developed by the CSDE, provided 1) each such educator and paraprofessional hired prior to the date upon which the training program commences shall complete the training program during the five-year period immediately following such date, and 2) each such educator and paraprofessional hired after such date shall complete the training program not later than one year from the date the educator or paraprofessional is hired to provide such services.
More substantively, under the guise of compliance with the A.R. federal court decision, the Act (effective July 1, 2023) requires boards of education to provide special education until an eligible student graduates high school or until the end of the school year when the student reaches age 22; previously, the obligation extended only until the date of the student’s 22nd birthdate (which actually seemed to be in compliance with the A.R. court order). The CSDE is required to update its regulations and notices to reflect this new requirement.
The Act requires SERC to conduct a review of each public transition program and report its findings to the General Assembly’s Education Committee by February 1, 2024. Such review shall examine (but not be limited to): 1) The types of transition services, provided in such program, 2) the number and qualifications of the staff providing such transition services, 3) the location of such program relative to the residence of the student or the student's family, and 4) any metrics for measuring the performance of such program, such as student and family feedback and the placement of students in employment, postsecondary education or training or programs for adults.
The Act requires the DDS Commissioner to create a plan to establish a Transitional Life Skills College program to provide transition support for persons with intellectual disabilities who are at least twenty-two years of age and transitioning from 1) the K-12 education system, or 2) living with parents or guardians to living independently or quasi-independently through a residential program administered by DDS. Not later than January 1, 2025, the Commissioner shall file a report on the plan to establish the Transitional Life Skills College program with the General Assembly’s Appropriations, Human Services and Public Health Committees.
Ostensibly seeking to follow federal requirements, Public Act 23-127 provides that at each PPT meeting, a parent (or guardian, pupil or surrogate parent, as the case may be) shall have the right to have a language interpreter (including a registered interpreter for persons who are deaf, hard of hearing or deafblind, who is present in person or available by telephone or through an online technology platform, or through a website or other electronic application approved by the CSBE) provided by the responsible school district if there is an apparent need or upon the request of such parent. In addition, the responsible school district shall provide a pupil's individualized education program (“IEP”), any documents relating to such program and all notices or information required by law translated into the primary language spoken by such parent/guardian or pupil if there is an apparent need or upon the request of the parent/guardian or pupil.
In addition, each responsible school district shall provide the notice created by the CSDE’s Mediation Services Coordinator regarding the availability of mediation services to each parent/guardian (including surrogate parents) of any child who requires special education by 1) distributing such notice to parents/guardians at the beginning of each school year, and 2) reading such notice out loud at the conclusion of the first PPT meeting at the beginning of each school year.
The Act requires that at the first PPT meeting after a child who requires special education and related services reaches the age of fourteen (and at least annually thereafter), each responsible school district shall provide information to the child and the responsible parent/guardian about the full range of decision-making supports, including alternatives to guardianship and conservatorship, and the online resource developed by the CSDE concerning establishing guardianship, conservatorship, supported decision-making, powers of attorney, advance directives, or other decision-making alternatives for when a student reaches age 18 and is receiving special education or related services.
The Act further provides that at the first PPT meeting when a child reaches the age of fourteen, the PPT shall for each public transition program and each program for adults for which such child may be eligible after graduation, 1) upon the approval of the parent/guardian, notify the state agency that provides such program about the potential eligibility of such child, and 2) provide the parent/guardian a listing of such programs that includes, but is not limited to, a plain language description, eligibility requirements, and deadlines and instructions for applications for such programs. Similar information must be provided not later than the PPT meeting that occurs approximately two years prior to a child's anticipated graduation from high school or the end of the school year in which a child will reach twenty-two years of age, whichever is expected to occur first based on the child's IEP; in addition, the PPT shall 1) invite a representative from each such agency to attend the PPT meeting for the purpose of establishing contact with and counseling the parent/guardian (or child) on the process for the anticipated transfer of services when the child exits from special education from the district, 2) permit and facilitate contact and coordination between each such agency and such parent/guardian/child for the purpose of easing the process for the transfer of services, and 3) assist such parent/guardian or child in completing an application to any such programs.
This Act requires the CSDE (by July 1, 2024, and annually thereafter) to report to each state agency that provides services and programs for adults with disabilities and General Assembly’s Appropriations, Education, Human Services, and Public Health Committees the aggregate number of students from all school districts who had a PPT during the prior school year in which information concerning transition services and programs (or eligibility for services from state agencies) was provided, as mandated by this Act.
This Act requires both the Departments of Developmental Services (“DDS”) and Aging and Disability Services to employ (“within available appropriations”) a sufficient number of transition advisors to provide transition services for children requiring special education who may be eligible to receive services from such agencies as determined through a PPT meeting.
Paraprofessional Involvement in Planning and Placement Team Meetings
Effective July 1, 2023, Public Act 23-159 expands on recent legislation requiring paraeducator attendance at PPT meetings upon parent request, by providing that paraprofessionals may meet with a supervisor as needed following such a PPT to review the student’s educational program.
Mediation Services and Due Process Hearings
Public Act 23-127 requires the CSDE to employ a “mediation services coordinator” in its Bureau of Special Education to, among other things, 1) coordinate and oversee special education mediation services throughout the state, and 2) maintain a list of special education mediators that meet the minimum training requirements. The Act sets forth training/continuing education requirements for mediators, including training in mediation skills and special education law, with the CSDE able to waive requirements for those who have sufficient training requirements or experience (and to retain prior mediators). The Act further makes the Mediation Services Coordinator the point person for mediation requests by any party. While any party may request mediation, mediation remains voluntary (and all parties must still agree to mediate).
The Act also makes changes to the due process hearing proceedings by now mandating that the school district must first proceed with its case (and offer testimony) at any hearing (instead of the parent). The Act explicitly requires that all hearing officer decisions shall be indexed and published (with appropriate redaction of student information). The Act confirms that if a party requests and all parties agree, mediation may take place in lieu of proceeding directly to a hearing.
Special Education Compliance Audits
Public Act 23-127 also requires the CSDE to randomly audit school districts with respect to their compliance with federal special education law. Such audits shall include, but need not be limited to: 1) interviewing teachers and staff who provide special education services and parents/guardians of children requiring special education, 2) conducting unannounced on-site visits to observe classroom practice and any other facet of the administration or provision of special education services in order to ensure compliance with IEPs and state and federal law and guidance, and 3) reviewing IEPs. The Act expands the teacher in-service training requirements to include: 1) laws governing the implementation of PPT meetings and Section 504 plans, and 2) an annual update of new state and federal policies concerning special education, recommendations and best practices.
Public Act 23-127 requires individual service coordinators for children receiving early intervention/“birth to three services” to assist in facilitating the transition to public school special education services. Specially, not later than three months prior to the third birthday of such child, the individual service coordinators shall 1) notify the child’s parent/guardian of their ability to meet, upon request, with the coordinator to discuss the contact information for the person responsible for the administration or coordination of special education services for the child’s residing school district, and 2) shall provide such person responsible for the administration or coordination of special education services with the child’s individualized family service plan.
Informational Handout for Students
Public Act 23-127 requires the CSDE by not later than January 1, 2024 to develop an “age appropriate” informational handout for students that explains what it means for a student to have an IEP or Section 504 plan pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, including 1) what rights the student is entitled to in the classroom under an IEP or Section 504 plan, and 2) a glossary of the most common tools/terms. The CSDE shall make such handout available to school districts and post such handout on the CSDE’s website. Each school district shall annually (and upon the initial identification of a child as requiring special education and related services) provide this student handout, along with the CSDE’s “Parent's Guide to Special Education in Connecticut”.
Intellectual Disability and Developmental Disability Definitions
Finally, Public Act 23-127 requires the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management (“OPM”), in consultation with the Commissioners of Education, Social Services, Developmental Services, Aging and Disability Services and Public Health, the Council on Developmental Disabilities and the Autism Spectrum Disorder Advisory Council, to 1) develop and recommend new state statutory definitions for intellectual disability and developmental disabilities and identify related programs for persons with such disabilities that may need to be changed or redesignated in accordance with any new statutory definitions, 2) evaluate whether an Intelligence Quotient (“IQ”) should be a factor in such definitions, and 3) evaluate the level-of-need assessment tool used by state agencies that serve persons with an intellectual disability or other developmental disabilities. Not later than January 1, 2025, the OPM secretary shall file a report, with recommendations with the General Assembly’s Appropriations, Education, Human Services and Public Health Committees.
Excess Cost Grants
Public Act 23-150: An Act Concerning Early Childhood Education, an Audit of the State-Wide Mastery Examination, the Establishment of the Connecticut Civics Education and Media Literacy Task Force, the Provision of Special Education, and a Bill of Rights for Multilingual Learner Students addresses a number of education law topics including special education. With respect to SPED excess cost grants, effective July 1, 2023, the Act clarifies the methodology used for calculating district special education excess cost grant awards by providing that districts shall be eligible for grant funding for SPED costs in excess of four-and-one-half times a district’s “net current expenditures per pupil” rather than a district’s “average per pupil educational costs,” which had been the baseline metric used for calculating excess cost grants. The Act also defines a school district’s “average daily membership per pupil” for purposes of grant calculations. These changes are technical in nature and should not result in any change in underlying excess cost grant award calculations. It also should be noted that this year’s budget implementer – Public Act 23-204 – maintained current levels of excess cost funding for high cost special education placements, as revised last year and by Public Act 23-1 (with a sliding scale based upon district wealth, with 1) the wealthiest districts receiving 85% of the excess cost grant following the district reaching the excess cost threshold, 2) the middle districts receiving 88% of said grant, and 3) the least wealthy/poorest districts receiving 91% of said grant.
Additionally, starting with the 2023-24 fiscal year, the Act explicitly prohibits districts from including federal coronavirus pandemic relief funding in the calculation of net current expenditures per pupil for purposes of determining the amount of the district’s annual excess cost grant.
SPED Funding Task Force
Public Act 23-150 amends existing recent legislation that created a task force to study special education funding issues to broaden the scope of the task force to examine issues related to gifted and talented students. Additionally, the Act expands the scope of the task force’s examination of SPED issues to include study of the feasibility of utilizing independent evaluators to observe the provision of SPED services in the classroom, delaying the age in which a classification of SPED services is made, SPED student-to-teacher ratios, the prohibition on the use of seclusion and other issues or topics relating to SPED the task force wishes to examine. The Act also expands the composition of the task force to include additional members appointed by legislative leaders and stakeholder groups. Finally, the Act pushes back the deadline for the task force’s final report to the General Assembly’s Education Committee from January 1, 2024 to January 1, 2025 but requires that an interim report be made to the Education Committee by January 1, 2024.
SPED and Charter Schools
Public Act 23-150 clarifies existing law with respect to charter school enrollment by explicitly prohibiting charter schools from inquiring into an applicant student’s need for or receipt of SPED and related services. Furthermore, the Act prohibits the use of student SPED and related services needs in charter school enrollment lotteries. These provisions became effective July 1, 2023.
SPED Compliance Complaint Decisions
Public Act 23-150 requires the CSDE to post summaries of compliance complaints filed against boards of education and other entities which may be responsible for the provision of SPED and related services on the CSDE website. Such postings must include information regarding any corrective action plan ordered by the CSDE and requires the CSDE to redact personally identifiable information of students before postings are made to the CSDE’s website. This provision became effective July 1, 2023.
Section 504 Team Meetings
Public Act 23-150 expands upon recent legislation regarding the rights of paraprofessionals and other district staff at PPT meetings by prohibiting boards of education from disciplining, suspending, terminating or otherwise punishing any school employee who discusses or makes recommendations during any Section 504 plan team meetings. This provision became effective July 1, 2023.
In addition to the special education changes described above, effective July 1, 2023 Public Act 23-150 expands upon existing education law protections that must be provided to multilingual students and their parents and requires the CSBE to draft a written bill of rights for the parents or guardians of multilingual learners.
As a threshold matter, the new law formally adopts the phrase “multilingual learner” in place of the phrase “English language learner” which was the term of art previously used in various existing statutes. Somewhat circularly, the new “multilingual learner” phrase is itself defined to mean an “English learner” as that term is defined under federal law which defines an English learner as a student or prospective student between the ages of three and twenty-one whose native language is other than English and whose difficulties in speaking, reading, writing or understanding English may be sufficient to deny the student the ability to meet academic standards, the ability to succeed in the classroom or the opportunity to participate fully in society.
The new multilingual learner bill of rights that is to be developed by the CSBE must encapsulate numerous legal protections, the vast majority of which already exist under state and/or federal law. These protections include but are not limited to:
- The right to attend public school regardless of immigration status;
- The right of a parent or guardian to enroll their child in public school without being required to submit immigration documentation;
- The right of a multilingual learner to participate in a program of bilingual education as currently provided for under state law;
- The right of a parent or guardian to receive written notice, in both English and the dominant language of such parent or guardian, that such student is eligible to participate in a program of bilingual education or English as a new language program;
- The right of a multilingual learner and the parent or guardian of such student to receive a high-quality orientation session, in the dominant language of such student and parent or guardian, that provides information relating to state standards, tests and expectations at the school for multilingual learner students, as well as the goals and requirements for programs of bilingual education and English as a new language;
- The right of a parent or guardian to receive information about the progress of their child’s English language development and acquisition;
- The right of a multilingual learner and the parent or guardian of such student to meet with school personnel to discuss such student's English language development and acquisition;
- The right of a multilingual learner to be placed in a program of bilingual education or English as a new language, if offered by the board of education;
- The right of a multilingual learner to have equal access to all grade-level school programming;
- The right of a multilingual learner to have equal access to all core grade-level subject matter;
- The right of a multilingual learner to receive annual language proficiency testing;
- The right of a multilingual learner to receive support services aligned with any intervention plan that the school or school district provides to all students;
- The right of a multilingual learner to be continuously and annually enrolled in a program of bilingual education or English as a new language while such student remains an eligible student, and;
- The right of a parent or guardian of a multilingual learner to contact the CSDE with any questions or concerns regarding such student's right to receive services or accommodations, including information regarding any recourse for failure of the board of education to provide or ensure such services or accommodations.
In addition to these items, the new law also requires districts to provide translation services upon request to the parents or guardians of multilingual learners or the students themselves during critical interactions with teachers and administrators, including, but not limited to, parent-teacher conferences, meetings with administrators of the school which such student is attending, and at properly noticed regular or special meetings of the board of education or scheduled meetings with a member or members of the board of education. Such translation services must be provided by an interpreter who is present in person or available by phone or through a website or other translation application approved by the CSDE. In the case of board of education meetings or direct meetings with board members, the request for translation services must be made at least one day in advance of the meeting. This new right to translation services must also be included in the CSBE’s new multilingual learner bill of rights.
Public Act 23-101: An Act Concerning the Mental, Physical and Emotional Wellness of Children - also addresses multilingual education issues by requiring that individualized service plans via the Birth to Three program must be provided in Spanish to any family whose primary language is Spanish; the Act requires that such early intervention services must be provided by Spanish speaking personnel (or be assisted by a translator if no such personnel is available).
Educational Funding and Related Issues
Section 333 of the “Budget Implementer” (Public Act 23-204) provides that for the 2023-2024 school year, districts that would have lost funding because they are funded above their “full funding level” will be held harmless for the year. There is no change in funding for alliance districts. For the 2024-2025 school year, for those towns who are not fully funded, the phase-in percent of funding is increased from 25% to 56.5% of the difference between the current funding and the full funding amount. Districts that would have lost funding because they are funded above their “full funding level” will be held harmless for the year. There is no change in funding for alliance districts. For the 2025-2026 school year, towns not previously fully funded at their “fully funded level” will be fully funded. Phase-ins will begin to reduce the funding for districts that are funded above their “fully funded level.” There is no change for alliance districts. The equalization process is further spelled out in the statute through the 2031-2032 school year.
Magnet School, Charter School, Agricultural Science and Technology and Open Choice Grants and Funding
Sections 341 and 342 of the Budget Implementer address magnet school funding and tuition. For the 2023-2024 school year, per pupil magnet school grant funding levels do not change. For the 2024-2025 school year, the per pupil magnet school grant remains at least the same as the 2023-2024 school year. Any interdistrict magnet school program operating less than full-time but at least half-time, is eligible for a grant equal to sixty-five percent of the full-time grant amount.
For the 2023-2024 school year, there is a magnet school tuition cap for East Hartford, Manchester, Windsor, New Britain, New London and Bloomfield. If any of these districts has more than 4% of their students enrolled in a magnet school, the district will not be responsible for $4,400 of the per student tuition charged for each student that is in excess of such 4%. The tuition cap expires for Windsor, New Britain, New London and Bloomfield for the 2024-2025 school year.
For the 2024-2025 school year, magnet schools that are allowed to and do charge tuition may not charge more than 58% of the per student tuition for the 2023-2024 school year.
Section 343 provides that for the 2023-2024 school year, charter school funding is equal to the foundation plus 36.08% of its charter grant adjustment. For the 2024-2025 school year, such funding is equal to the foundation plus 56.7% of its charter grant adjustment.
Section 344 provides that for the 2023-24 school year, the agricultural science and technology per pupil grant amount remains the same. For the 2024-2025 school year the per pupil grant amount must be at least the same as for the 2023-2024 school year. Beginning in the 2024-2025 school year, the Agricultural Science and Technology Schools cannot charge per pupil tuition that is greater than 58% of the per student tuition charged in the 2023-2024 school year.
Section 345 maintains the tiered Open Choice per pupil grant amounts based on participation for the 2023-24 school year. For the 2024-2025 school year, the tier amounts must remain at least the same as the 2023-2024 school year.
All state funding discussed above is subject to being “within available appropriations.”
Paraeducator Health Insurance Subsidies
Sections 204, 205 and 206 of the Budget Implementer establish a new paraeducator health subsidy program. Effective July 1, 2023, for the 2023-2024 fiscal year, the state Comptroller shall establish a program to provide a subsidy, within available appropriations, to each paraeducator who (1) opens a health savings account (“HSA”), (2) is employed by a board of education, and (3) applies for such program in the form and manner prescribed by the Comptroller. The subsidy shall be set by the Comptroller as a certain percent of the initial investment made by the paraeducator to open the account, not to exceed a certain amount set by the Comptroller. The Act provides that the following paraeducators are eligible for the subsidy: a paraeducator who (1) is employed by a board of education, (2) is ineligible for (a) the Covered Connecticut program, (b) Medicaid and (c) does not have access to coverage under a health benefit plan available either through their employer or the paraeducator’s spouse’s employer that meets certain coverage levels or where the employer-sponsored plan does not reach certain coverage levels.
For the 2024-2025 fiscal year , and each fiscal year thereafter, the Comptroller shall establish a program to provide a stipend to an eligible paraeducator to purchase a qualified health care plan with a silver level of coverage through the Connecticut Health Insurance Exchange. Effective July 1, 2024, the definition of an eligible paraeducator is amended to lower the coverage levels of employer-sponsored plans that will qualify a paraeducator for the stipend.
Finally, the Act also establishes a paraeducator health care working group to study health care access, equity and affordability for paraeducators employed by boards of education. Such study must include (1) analysis of the cost to such boards for offering coverage under health benefit plans with at least an actuarial value of seventy-five percent, (2) consideration of fees or taxes assessed on a board of education if coverage under the health plan does not meet minimum IRS requirements, (3) comparison of the costs to such boards for offering health coverage by actuarial value and the cost of a qualified health plan with a silver level of coverage, (4) examination of the feasibility of expanding the Covered Connecticut program to provide coverage for paraeducators and other similarly situated occupations in the state, and (5) assessment of the average out-of-pocket costs for paraeducators under existing cost-sharing subsidy programs.
School Lunch Grants
Section 311 of the Budget Implementer amends existing law to require that the CSDE, within available appropriations, provide grants to boards of education, CTECS, charter schools, interdistrict magnet schools and endowed academies that participate in the National School Lunch Program and operate a school lunch program, breakfast program or other child feeding program.
For the 2023-2024 fiscal year, the grant shall enable eligible students to receive school lunches, school breakfasts and other such child feeding at no cost to such eligible students. “Eligible students” are defined as children whose families have incomes that are at or below two hundred percent of the federal poverty level, but who are not eligible to receive free school meals under federal law.
CSDE to Publish Annual Reports of School District’s Receipts, Expenditures and Statistics
Under existing law, each school superintendent must annually report to the CSDE on a district’s receipts, expenditures and statistics, as prescribed by the Commissioner by no later than September first of each year. Pursuant to Public Act 23-167, the CSDE must now, by no later than February 15, 2024, and annually thereafter, publish on its website the data contained in such district-level reports and returns by education program type, expense function, expense object and funding source. The CSDE shall further develop and publish a guide that contains definitions for each category of expenditure and funding source. In addition, no later than February 15, 2025, and annually thereafter, the CSDE must develop and publish the data contained in the reports and returns in a format that allows financial comparisons between school districts and schools, including student enrollment and demographic statistics as of October first of the school year in which the reports and returns were filed.
Local Food for Schools Incentive Program
Public Act 23-167 requires that for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2024, and each year thereafter, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture and the CSDE jointly administer a local food for schools incentive program. This program provides reimbursement to eligible boards of education for the purchase of locally and regionally sourced food that may be used as part of the boards’ participation in an eligible meal plan. Boards may, depending upon upcoming guidelines, receive reimbursement of up to one-half of the board’s expenditure on locally sourced foods and one-third of its expenditures on regionally sourced foods. (The locally or regionally sourced food must comply with all nutrition standards established by the CSDE).
Eligible boards of education must keep accurate records of these expenditures. The amount of reimbursement payments shall be reduced if the total of the reimbursement payments exceeds the amount appropriated in any given year. Further, any unexpended funds that are appropriated for this purpose shall not lapse at the end of the fiscal year; they shall instead be available for expenditure during the next fiscal year. No later than January 1, 2025 and each year thereafter, the CSDE shall submit a report on the funds appropriated and received by the department for the program, descriptions of the reimbursement payments and an evaluation of the program.
The Act gives fairly clear definitions as to what foods are eligible for this program. “Locally sourced food” is defined as “produce and farm products that have a traceable point of origin within Connecticut that are grown or produced at, or sold by, a local farm that includes, but is not limited to, value-added dairy, fish, pork, beef, poultry, eggs, fruits, vegetables and minimally processed foods.” “Regionally sourced food” is “produce and other farm products that have a traceable point of origin within New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire or Maine that are grown or produced at, or sold by, a regional farm and includes, but is not limited to, value-added dairy, fish, pork, beef, poultry, eggs, fruits, vegetables and minimally processed foods.” An “eligible board of education” is a board of education that is participating in the National School Lunch Program.
Supplemental grants may also be available, within available appropriations, for the purpose of purchasing kitchen equipment, engaging with school nutrition or farm-to-table consultants, engaging with school nutrition and preparing and serving locally and regionally sourced food. Priority for such supplemental grants shall be given to alliance districts.
Public Act 23-208: An Act Making Certain Revisions to the Education Statutes requires the Commissioner of the CSDE to develop a report on the effectiveness of the alliance district program along with recommendations for reforming the program, and to submit such report and recommendations to the Education and Appropriations committees of the General Assembly by no later than January 1, 2026. In addition, effective July 1, 2023, the Act provides that alliance district funding may not be spent on family resource center programs. Instead by February 1, 2024, alliance districts must report to the CSDE on the costs of implementing family resource programs at each of their elementary schools. Moreover, the new law expands eligibility for alliance district phase out grants for districts that are no longer eligible for alliance district grants and also requires that for the 2024-25 fiscal year alliance districts dedicate certain grant funding to minority staff recruitment, residency and retention programs.
Connecticut General Statutes Section 10-264u sets forth rules and conditions that govern requests for funding for schools designated as alliance districts, renamed as “Educational reform districts” by Public Act 23-167. The statute has required such districts, in their applications for funding, to include the submission of and the spending of funds pursuant to a plan that sets forth objectives and performance targets that are based in part on the strategic use of student performance data. Public Act 23-167 changes the term “plan” to “improvement plan” and requires school districts to annually submit such improvement plan to the CSDE. The improvement plans so submitted shall be published on the CSDE’s website.
Student Mental Health
Public Act 23-101 requires the Commissioner of the Department of Social Services (to the extent permissible under federal law) to provide Medicaid reimbursement for suicide risk assessments and other mental health evaluations and services provided at a school-based health center or public school (and to amend the Medicaid State plan as may be necessary to accomplish the same).
Additionally, the Act also requires the CSDE for the 2023-2024 fiscal year to award a grant to and collaborate with a nonprofit organization that specializes in identifying and providing services for at-risk teenage students who are experiencing depression, anxiety, substance abuse struggles and trauma and conflict-related stresses, for the purpose of training school behavioral health providers to be able to identify and provide services for such at-risk teenage students. The CSDE (within available appropriations) may hire one full-time employee who will be responsible for implementing this grant program.
Miscellaneous Grant Programs
Section 333 of the Budget Implementer requires the Commissioner of the CSDE to expend $500,000 of additional funds for 2023-2024 and 2024-2025 to provide a grant-in-aid to The Legacy Foundation of Hartford, Inc. to provide wrap-around services for students participating in the inter-district public school attendance program.
Section 336 of the Budget Implementer expands through 2025-2026 the grant program to provide grants to boards of education for the purpose of hiring additional school mental health specialists.
Section 325 of the Budget Implementer amends existing law to allow that any school district that received a priority school district phase-out grant in the third fiscal year following the fiscal year such in which such school district received its final priority school grant shall be eligible to receive a priority school district phase-out grant for the 2023-2024 school year.
Section 328 of the Budget Implementer amends the heating, cooling, ventilation and air conditioning system grant program to provide that a local board of education for any town with a total population of 80,000 or greater shall receive a grant equal to a percentage of its eligible expenses that is the greater of the amount provided under the current statutory formula or sixty percent. This provision became effective July 1, 2023.
Under Public Act 23-167, the CSDE shall, within available appropriations, establish a pre-apprenticeship program and award grants to any board of education that incorporates a pre-apprenticeship program into the curriculum for grades nine through twelve. Such program must (1) be registered with the Department of Labor; and (2) meet all criteria that will be established by the CSDE. The award shall be in an amount of not less than one thousand dollars for each student that completes the pre-apprenticeship program. Starting January 1, 2025, and each year thereafter, the CSDE must submit a report to the General Assembly that states (1) the amount of grants awarded during the prior year; and (2) the types of pre-apprenticeship programs completed by the students during the prior year.
Public Act 23-66: An Act Concerning A Title IX Compliance Toolkit For School Districts requires the Commission on Women, Children, Seniors, Equity and Opportunity to convene and lead a working group to develop a Title IX “compliance toolkit” for use by boards of education, students, and parents and guardians of students in implementing state and federal laws regarding the prevention, identification and response to discrimination, harassment, and adult sexual misconduct. The toolkit is to include the following:
- Training that includes a) information regarding the prevention, identification and response to adult sexual misconduct in schools, as described in the U.S. Department of Education's "Training Guide for Administrators and Educators on Addressing Adult Sexual Misconduct in the School Setting", and b) research and data regarding the prevalence of child sexual abuse, adult sexual misconduct and the unique risk to sexual abuse for students with disabilities or who are LBGTQ+;
- A model antidiscrimination and abuse prevention policy and accompanying procedures that include but are not limited to policies addressing the needs of students with disabilities or who are LBGTQ+;
- A summary of applicable state and federal statutory and regulatory requirements that includes information as to how such requirements affect the rights of students, including students with disabilities or who are LBGTQ+, to be free from discrimination, harassment and abuse;
- Provisions relating to the process for reporting an incident of adult sexual misconduct, including documents accessible to parents and guardians of students, students, school personnel and administrators;
- Requirements for investigating reports of adult sexual misconduct, including information regarding the need to offer safety planning and services to the complainant or victim;
- An explanation of the Title IX complaint procedures, including, but not limited to, the various methods accessible to parents and guardians of students, students, school personnel and administrators of submitting complaints;
- Information explaining the right of an individual to seek redress from the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and the United States Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights that is accessible to parents and guardians of students, students, school personnel and administrators;
- Procedures for publishing and disseminating information to parents and guardians of students, students, school personnel and administrators from the Connecticut School Health Survey and school climate assessment instruments;
- Information relating to personnel and resources at the state and federal level that are available to provide ongoing technical assistance and support to boards of education with regard to their compliance with Title IX requirements; and
- Information relating to resources that are available to provide support to students, educators and parents and guardians regarding prevention, identification and response to child sexual harassment, discrimination and abuse.
The Act specifies the composition of the working group, which shall include representation from the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education and the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents. The working group is then to submit the Title IX compliance toolkit that it develops to the General Assembly’s Committee on Children by July 1, 2024.
The Act further provides that commencing with the 2025-2026 school year, each school district shall implement the afore-referenced Title IX compliance toolkit as per their efforts to prevent, identify and respond to reports of child sexual abuse, harassment and discrimination. Commencing with the 2026-2027 school year, each school district shall submit a Title IX compliance report to the CSDE, in a form/manner prescribed by the CSDE. The report shall include 1) the name and contact information of any individual designated by the district to serve as its Title IX coordinator, including the dates on which such individual has served as coordinator, 2) any training offered or provided by the district to school personnel regarding the laws and implementation of Title IX (including the content and frequency of such training), 3) any Title IX policy and any supplemental misconduct policy for the school district, including a description of where such policies are available to students, parents and guardians and school personnel, and 4) any guidelines or resources used or provided by the district in the implementation to any student, parent or guardian who makes a complaint concerning a violation of Title IX. The CSDE shall annually review these Title IX compliance reports and develop a report based on its findings of such review. The CSDE shall make such report available on its website and submit the report to the General Assembly’s Committee on Children.
Special Act 23-18: An Act Establishing a Working Group to Study the Implementation of Federal Title IX Protections For All Municipal Recreation Areas and School Sports Facilities establishes a working group whose goal is to determine the feasibility of implementing an assessment of municipal and public-school sports facilities to evaluate their compliance with Title IX. Factors to be considered include the nature of the organized sports teams that use such facilities and whether any teams are prohibited from using such facilities. The working group shall consist of various educational and school sports stakeholders along with legislative appointees. The working group is to submit a report on its findings to the Education and Planning and Development Committees of the General Assembly by no later than January 1, 2024.
Curriculum and Instruction
Remote Learning and Dual Instruction
Public Act 23-150 amends recent legislation that authorized district use of remote learning in limited circumstances but that prohibited the provision of dual instruction (i.e. “synchronous instruction”) in connection with remote learning, by specifically authorizing dual instruction in cases where dual instruction is required in, or necessary to implement IEP or Section 504 plans or as part of an intradistrict or interdistrict cooperative learning program in which students are present in a classroom on school grounds during the regular school day and a certified staff member is present in each classroom in which dual instruction is provided or students are receiving such dual instruction. Before offering dual instruction as part of such intradistrict or interdistrict cooperative learning programs, boards of education must reach an agreement with each impacted certified staff union (i.e. the teachers’ union from each district participating in the cooperative program).
Additionally, Public Act 23-160 amends existing law with respect to the CSDE’s development of a plan for the creation and implementation of a state-wide remote learning school for students in grades kindergarten to twelve. The Act defines an “eligible student” for purposes of eligibility in such remote learning school as “[a] student who resides in the state, but is unable to attend school in person due to a medical diagnosis, including a psychological or physical condition or restriction, or medical exemption to required immunizations, documented by the child’s health care provider.”
The CSDE plan for the remote learning school was previously required to be submitted by July 1, 2023 but Public Act 23-160 now pushes that deadline back to January 1, 2024.
Public Act 23-101 and Public Act 23-159 both mandate (pursuant to identical legislative language) that by July 1, 2024, boards of education must provide for “play-based learning” during the instructional time of each regular school day for all pre-K and kindergarten students and must also permit teachers to utilize play-based learning during the instructional time of a regular school day for all students in grades one to five.
“Play-based learning” is defined under the new law to mean “a pedagogical approach that emphasizes play in promoting learning and includes developmentally appropriate strategies that can be integrated with existing learning standards.” Time spent during recess or physical education does not constitute play-based learning time.
For kindergarten and preschool students, play-based learning must be incorporated and integrated into daily practice, allow for the needs of such students to be met through free play, guided play and games, and be predominantly free of the use of mobile electronic devices. By contrast, first through fifth grade teachers may incorporate and integrate play-based learning into daily practice in a manner that allows for the needs of students to be met through free play, guided play and games and is predominantly free of the use of mobile electronic devices.
Play-based learning utilized under the new law must comply with the IEP and/or Section 504 plans of SPED students. The Act provides that school employees may only prevent or restrict a student’s participation in play-based learning if such prevention or restriction is in accordance with board of education policy regarding the limitation of student participation in physical exercise during the school day. Finally, the Act requires that starting with the 2024-2025 school year, play-based learning be incorporated into annual professional development programming for pre-K through fifth grade teachers.
Sections 319 and 320 of the Budget Implementer amends the state’s high school graduation requirements, beginning with the class of 2025, so as in addition to the course work/subject matter graduation requirements, a student cannot graduate unless the student has (1) completed a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (“FAFSA”), (2) completed and submitted a public institution of higher education application for institutional financial aid for students without legal immigration status, or (3) completed a waiver on a form to be prescribed by the Commissioner of the CSDE, signed by such minor student’s parent or legal guardian or by the student if such student is a legally emancipated minor or eighteen years of age or older. The parent/legal guardian/student shall not be required to state any reasons for choosing not to complete the FAFSA or application for institutional financial aid. On or after March 15 of the school year, a principal, school counselor, teacher or other certified educator may complete the waiver on behalf of any student who has not satisfied the requirements of this section and must affirm that they have made a good faith effort to contact the parent, legal guardian or student about completion of the FAFSA or application for institutional financial aid. NOTE: Please see Public Act 23-21’s revision to the graduation requirement via the addition of one-half credit in personal financial management and financial literacy as noted below.
Effective July 1, 2025, Public Act 23-150 adds “civics and media literacy” to the program of instruction that must be offered by Connecticut’s public schools. The Act does not define how this subject matter is to be taught and much of this subject area may already be covered in required instruction on citizenship, government and history which are all subject matters within the existing required program of instruction.
The Act also requires CTECS to study programs offered at CTECS’ schools to see whether such programs align with the skills or certifications required to fill the available jobs in the state and whether there are any deficiencies in the training or the availability of equipment at CTECS’ schools to fill such jobs. The Act also requires CTECS to study opportunities to partner with employers or labor organizations in the state to provide relevant apprenticeships or internships to students. The results of such study are to be presented to the Education Committee of the General Assembly by no later than January 1, 2025.
Availability of Curriculum Materials
Public Act 23-160 requires boards of education to make available all curriculum approved by their school district curriculum committees and all associated curriculum materials in accordance with the requirements of the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment.” (the “PPRA”). The PPRA provides parents with the right to, among other things, receive notice of and the opportunity to opt out of activities involving the collection and disclosure of personal information for the purpose of marketing or providing that information to others.
Financial Literacy Instruction
Commencing with the class of 2027, Public Act 23-21: An Act Concerning Financial Literacy Instruction amends high school graduation requirements by requiring students to satisfactorily complete at least one-half credit in personal financial management and financial literacy. The Act does not change the existing twenty-five credit requirement for graduation – which specifically requires nine credits in the humanities, including civics and the arts, nine credits in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, one credit in physical education and wellness, one credit in health and safety education and one credit in world languages. The Act provides that the new one-half credit requirement in personal financial management and financial literacy may be applied to the existing nine credit requirement for coursework in the humanities, civics and the arts.
In addition to this change, the Act also amends existing law by granting boards of education flexibility in electing whether students shall be required to complete a one credit mastery-based diploma assessment in order to graduate from high school or be granted a diploma. This change becomes effective starting with the class of 2023. Prior to this change, state law required that students satisfactorily complete a one credit mastery-based assessment in order to graduate high school or receive a diploma.
More broadly, the Act also amends existing law with respect to school instruction by designating personal financial management and financial literacy in the required program of instruction for Connecticut public schools.
Audit of State-Wide Mastery Examinations
Both Public Act 23-150 as well as Public Act 23-167 require (pursuant to virtually identical statutory language) that by January 1, 2025 the Commissioner of the CSDE must conduct an audit of state and local mastery testing requirements and administration. Such audit is required to collect data on the amount of time devoted to student preparation or educator evaluation in connection with state-wide or local standardized tests and include an analysis on the amount of time such preparation and evaluation takes away from regular instruction. The audit must also include the Commissioner’s recommendations with respect to any limitations that should be imposed on the amount of time that may be devoted to administering such exams. The results of the audit are to be presented to the General Assembly’s Education and Appropriations committees.
Implementation of a Comprehensive Reading Curriculum
Public Act 23-167 requires that for the school year commencing July 1, 2023 and each school year thereafter, boards of education must implement a reading curriculum model or programs for kindergarten to grades three that has been reviewed and recommended by the Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success.
School districts may apply for a waiver of this requirement. However, Public Act 23-167 states that for the school years commencing on July 1, 2023 and July 1, 2024, those districts that have not been granted a waiver and are not fully implementing a comprehensive reading curriculum model for grades kindergarten through three, shall begin partial implementation of such reading curriculum model and must be fully implementing such comprehensive model or program by no later than the school year commencing July 1, 2025.
While the waiver was previously considered based on whether the board had sufficient resources or funding to implement a comprehensive reading curriculum, Public Act 23-167 now requires that a waiver may only now be granted if the district’s other comprehensive reading curriculum or program is (1) evidence-based and scientifically-based and (2) focused on competency in oral language, phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, rapid automatic name or letter name fluency and reading comprehension.
“Reading” for Purposes of a Board of Education’s Required Program of Instruction
Existing law defines and lists the subject matter included in the program of instruction that must be offered by the public schools. Public Act 23-160 amends the law with respect to the required program of instruction to define “reading” as “evidence-based instruction that focuses on competency in oral language, phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, rapid automatic name or letter name fluency and reading comprehension.”
Cursive and World Languages to Model Curriculum
By January 1, 2024, Public Act 23-167 requires the CSDE to develop a model curriculum for grades kindergarten through grade 8 that may be used in whole or in part by any school district. The Act also adds cursive writing and world languages beginning in kindergarten to the content of the model curriculum.
Partnership with Local Employers in the Aviation or Aerospace Industry
Effective July 1, 2023, Public Act 23-167 any board of education may partner with one or more local employers that are in the aviation or aerospace industry to develop and provide an apprenticeship program for students. The program may include (1) on-site training; and (2) the provision of information to students about programs of study at the CT Aero Tech School for Aviation Technicians. Within sixty days after the first student cohort completes the apprenticeship, the board of education shall submit a report to the General Assembly’s Education Committee that includes the number of students (1) who participated in and completed the program; and (2) enrolled in the CT Aero Tech School for Aviation Technicians.
Staff Training and Development
Existing law requires boards of education to provide in-service training programs for teachers, administrators and pupil personnel who hold the initial educator, provisional educator or professional educator certificate on a wide-variety of subjects including drugs and alcohol abuse, the prevention of risk-taking behaviors, school violence prevention and mandated reporting obligations among other topics. Public Act 23-160 amended the law by mandating that paraeducators be allowed to participate (if they so choose) in such in-service training programs along with certified staff members. This new requirement applies starting with the 2023-24 school year.
Paraeducator Participation in Local Professional Development and Evaluation Committees
Effective July 1, 2023, Public Act 23-159 amends existing law with respect to the composition of local professional development and evaluation committees to require that at least one paraeducator selected by the exclusive bargaining unit for paraeducators be added to such committees. Professional development and evaluation committees are responsible for participating in the development or adoption of teacher evaluation and support programs for each district as well as the development, evaluation and annual updating of a comprehensive local professional development plan for certified employees of each district. On July 1, 2022, professional development and evaluation committees also became responsible for developing, evaluating and annually updating a comprehensive local professional development plan for district paraeducators. The new law additionally requires that by January 1, 2025 the CSDE, in consultation with the School Paraeducator Advisory Council develop or update guidance and best practices for programs of professional development provided for paraeducators and distribute such guidance and best practices to each board of education.
School Administrator Management Training
Effective July 1, 2023, Public Act 23-159 amends existing law with respect to annual certified staff professional development programming to require that principals and vice-principals receive training on the management of school personnel and methods for engaging school personnel with the goals of the school.
High School Student Paraeducator Training Program
Under Public Act 23-167, no later than January 1, 2024, the Commissioner of the CSDE, in consultation with the School Paraeducator Advisory Council, shall develop a model program for paraeducator training for students in grades nine to twelve who may be qualified to work as a paraeducator when they graduate from high school. Not later than one year after adopting such a program, participating boards of education must annually prepare a report to the General Assembly’s Education Committee that provides the number of students who participated in and completed the program by grade and who found employment as a paraeducator after graduation.
Student Seizure Response Training
Public Act 23-160 adds emergency responses to students who experience a seizure in school, including the recognition of the signs and symptoms of seizures, the appropriate steps for seizure first aid, information about seizure actions plans for students and, for those authorized to do so, the administration of medication to the list of mandatory in-service training programs for certified staff members.
Miscellaneous Education Law Changes
Mandatory CSDE Training for New Board Members
Pursuant to Public Act 23-167, on and after July 1, 2023, newly-elected board of education members will now be required to complete a mandatory training program to be developed by the CSDE within one year of taking office. Such training program must address the roles and responsibilities of board members, the duties and obligations of a board of education and school district budgeting and finance.
Free Menstrual Products in Student Restrooms
Last year, new legislation required boards of education to provide free menstrual products in restrooms for students in grades three through twelve. This requirement was to begin on and after September 1, 2023, but Public Act 23-160 now pushes this deadline back to September 1, 2024.
School Resource Officers
Public Act 23-167 and Public Act 23-208 make a number of changes regarding school district utilization of school resource officers (“SROs”). Pursuant to Public Act 23-167, effective July 1, 2023, school districts that assign a SRO to any school must maintain a copy of the memorandum of understanding with the local law enforcement agency regarding the SRO’s role in a central location in the district, post it on the district’s website and at each school in which the SRO is assigned. Any such memorandum of understanding entered into, extended, updated or amended must now also include provisions specifying the SRO’s duties concerning, and procedures for, the restraint of students, use of firearms, school-based arrests and reporting of any investigations and behavioral interventions. An “investigation or behavioral intervention” is any circumstance in which a SRO conducts a fact-finding inquiry concerning student behavior or school safety, including emergencies, and any intervention to resolve violent or nonviolent student behavior or conflicts.
For any investigations or behavioral interventions engaged in by any SRO, within five school days the SRO must submit a report to the chief of police. The chief shall submit such report to the superintendent on at least a monthly basis. The superintendent shall provide a copy of such report to the board of education. The report shall consist of the following elements at a minimum: (1) the date, time and location of such investigation or behavioral intervention; (2) the name and badge number of the SRO; (3) the race, ethnicity, gender, age and disability status for each involved student; (4) the reason for and nature of such investigation or intervention; (5) the disposition of each investigation or intervention; and (6) whether any such student was searched, apprised of their constitutional rights, issued a citation or summons, arrested or detained, including the amount of time of the detention.
In addition to the new SRO memoranda of understanding requirements imposed by Public Act 23-167, Public Act 23-208 clarifies that all memoranda of understanding between boards of education and local law enforcement agencies regarding the assignment of SROs that are entered into, extended, updated or amended on or after July 1, 2023 include provisions specifying a SRO’s duties concerning, and procedures for investigations and behavioral interventions of challenging behavior or conflict that escalates to violence or constitutes a crime. This new requirement is in addition to Public Act 23-167’s new requirement that memoranda of understanding regarding the use of SROs include provisions specifying procedures for the restraint of students, use of firearms, and school-based arrests. This Act further specifies that such provisions must be in accordance with laws and policies regarding the duties of police officers.
Indoor Air Quality
Public Act 23-167 requires the Department of Administrative Services (“DAS”) to develop a standard school building indoor air quality reporting form to be used by boards of education when preparing or conducting a uniform inspection program of the indoor air quality within each of its school buildings. DAS shall also develop a standard school building heating, ventilation and air conditioning system reporting form to be used by boards of education when conducting a uniform inspection and evaluation of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system in school buildings. Both forms are to be made available on DAS’ website.
Public Act 23-167 further provides that beginning on January 1, 2024, boards of education must annually provide for a uniform inspection and evaluation program of the indoor quality within each of its school buildings, using the Environmental Protection Agency’s Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools Program. Existing law requires such inspection programs only once every three years. Air quality evaluations must be placed on the district websites along with the website of each school and must be submitted to DAS.
Furthermore, existing law previously required that prior to January 1, 2024, and every five years thereafter, boards of education provide for a uniform inspection of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system within each school building under its jurisdiction. Public Act 23-167 defers that date to January 1, 2025 and also requires that reports of such inspections be provided to DAS using the forms noted above as well as posted on a district’s website.
DAS may, upon a board’s request, grant a waiver of the above January 1, 2025 deadline for the provision of a uniform inspection and evaluation if it finds that there is an insufficient number of certified testing, adjusting and balancing technicians, industrial hygienists certified to perform such inspection and evaluation; or (2) the board requesting the waiver has scheduled its inspection and evaluation for a date after January 1, 2025. Any such waiver is valid for one year.
Public Act 23-167 also requires the Commissioner of Public Health to develop guidelines by July 1, 2024 regarding the establishment of an optimal thermal comfort range of sixty-five to eighty degrees Fahrenheit for school buildings and facilities, except that gymnasiums may have a larger comfort range.
Charter and Magnet School Eligibility to Participate in Health Care Cooperatives
Existing law permits municipalities and boards of education to join together by written agreement to act as a single entity for the purpose of providing medical or health care benefits to employees. Effective July 1, 2023, Public Act 23-160 expands this ability to charter and magnet schools.
Section 318 of the Implementer Act amends existing law to require that the reduced-isolation enrollment standard established for interdistrict magnet schools shall comply with the decision of Sheff v. O’Neill, or any related stipulation or order in effect, for an interdistrict magnet school program located in the Sheff region. It also authorizes the Commissioner of the CSDE to assist the state in meeting its obligations under Sheff and any related stipulation or order in effect by awarding grants with funds appropriated for the Sheff settlement for academic and social student support programs for the following interdistrict programs: (1) Interdistrict cooperative programs pursuant to section 10-74d, (2) interdistrict public school (“open choice”) attendance program pursuant to section 10-266aa, and (3) interdistrict magnet school programs pursuant to section 10-264l and (4) CTECS.
Public Act 23-167 changes existing law to state that a nurse under contract with a board of education “shall not be required to have at least the equivalent of one year full time working experience as a registered nurse during the five years immediately prior to appointment or employment as a school nurse or nurse practitioner.” However, on and after July 1, 2024, all school nurses or nurse practitioners under contract with a board of education must complete at least fifteen hours of professional development, in each two-year period, provided such development includes training and instruction in the implementation of individualized education programs and plans pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Public Act 23-167 also adds that all boards of education must provide professional development programs related to training and instruction in the implementation of IEPs and Section 504 Plans not later than thirty days after such nurse or nurse practitioner has been appointed by or entered into a contract with such board of education.
Student Suspensions and Expulsions
Public Act 23-167 requires that for the school year commencing July 1, 2024 and each year thereafter, any board of education with a rate of in or out of school suspensions and/or expulsions that is deemed high or disproportionate by the Commissioner of the CSDE shall (1) develop strategies to reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions; and (2) submit such strategies to the Commissioner. The CSDE shall, within available appropriations, provide support and oversight of such schools that are implementing these strategies.
Recommended Assessments for Determining Suicide Risks
Public Act 23-167 requires that by no later than January 1, 2024, the CSDE provide to each board of education a list of recommended assessments for determining the suicide risk of students who exhibit mental health distress, have been identified as at risk of suicide or have other risk factors.
Student Data Reporting
Public Act No. 23-165: An Act Concerning Access by The Legislative Office of Fiscal Analysis to Certain Education Data which became effective July 1, 2023, requires the Commissioner of the CSDE to submit a report every other year to the General Assembly’s Office of Fiscal Analysis aggregating certain information on public school students. For each student, this report will include information such as the student’s grade-level, resident municipality, reporting school district, schools attended, English language learner and free or reduced-price lunch status, any special program status code and whether the student is enrolled at no expense to the municipality. Such reports shall not include any personally identifiable information of students, such as names or the unique student identifier assigned to each student. Information produced to the Office of Fiscal Analysis by the CSDE may only be used by employees of the Office of Fiscal Analysis for the purpose of research and reporting in the course of their duties for the General Assembly.
Public Act 23-167 requires that by no later than May twentieth of each year, every board of education, operator of an interdistrict magnet school program and state and local charter school submit to the CSDE the number of students enrolled as of April first of each school year. In the case of a board that (1) is a sending district or receiving district; (2) is an operator of an interdistrict magnet school program; or (3) operates an agricultural science and technology program, such board shall annually submit to the CSDE the number of students participating in such programs as of April first of every school year, separately for in-district and out-of-district students.
Public Act 23-208 designates the terms of office for board of education members in the new Regional School District # 20 by setting staggered four year terms for representatives from each of the member towns with elections occurring in June of 2024, June of 2025 and June of 2026.
Public Act 23-159 clarifies existing law by providing that continuous service time for teachers previously employed by a regional board of education who commence employment with a new regional board of education is not interrupted for purposes of tenure and accrued sick leave calculations. This portion of the Act is clearly directed towards current Region 6 teachers who will commence employment with the newly-established Region 20.
Among a number of other provisions, Public Act 23-101 also provides that in order for a principal public library to be eligible for state grants, it must maintain and adhere to collection development, collection management and collection reconsideration policies that have been approved by the governing body of such library; such policy shall offer residents a clear process to request a reconsideration of library materials (and shall govern if there is a book challenge).
Board Meeting and Agenda Requirements and Freedom of Information Act Changes
Website Posting of Board Agendas and Meeting Documents
While it may be a practice in which many boards of education already engage, effective July 1, 2023, Public Act 23-160 makes it an express requirement that boards of education conducting regular or special meetings make available for public inspection the agenda for the meeting or any associated documents that may be reviewed by members of the board at the meeting and post such agenda and documents on the board’s website.
As such, it is no longer sufficient to simply make a board’s “packet” of meeting documents available in hard-copy at meetings, although that is still a good practice. Posting of the agenda and the documents to be reviewed (other than those that are exempt under FOIA or otherwise), must now be made available on-line. The Act does not define exactly when a board’s “packet” documents must be posted, but it is safe to assume that it should be done in a reasonable amount of time before the scheduled board meeting.
Public Act 23-200: An Act Concerning Enforcement Of Violations Of The Freedom Of Information Act, which takes effect on October 1, 2023, increases from $1,000 to $5,000 the maximum civil penalty that the Freedom of Information Commission (“FOIC”) may impose for violations of the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) where the FOIC finds that the denial of FOIA rights was without reasonable grounds. In addition, the Act authorizes the FOIC to issue such fines where the FOIC finds that a public agency is engaging in 1) a practice or pattern of conduct that constitutes an obstruction of any right conferred by the FOIA, or 2) reckless, willful, or wanton misconduct in delaying or denying responses to public records requests. In such circumstances, the FOIC is also empowered to order such other relief that the FOIC determines is appropriate to rectify such obstruction or misconduct and to deter the public agency from violating the FOIA; if a public agency fails or refuses to comply with any such order, the FOIC may apply to the Superior Court for an order requiring such public agency to comply with the FOIC’s order.
Public Act 23-197 expands the FOIA’s exemption for records of any investigations and the names of an employee who provides information under state whistleblower and false claim acts so as to add that the complaint and the name of any person providing such information may also be exempt from public disclosure.
Existing law enables the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management to review the audits of municipalities and regional school districts and to report those which are out of compliance to the Municipal Finance Advisory Commission, the Auditors of Public Accounts and the CEO and clerk of the municipality or school superintendent. If such occurs, Public Act 23-197 now requires the legislative body of the municipality, board of selectmen or board of education to hold a public meeting to discuss the nature of the unsound or irregular financial practices or lack of internal controls in relation to commonly accepted standards and to address the potential cause for such practices. After such meeting, the audited agency shall submit a plan for corrective action, in writing, to the secretary.
Labor and Employment
Public Act 23-101 amends (effective October 1, 2023) the state’s paid sick leave law by extending eligibility for paid sick leave to a service worker who is the parent or guardian of a child who is a victim of family violence or sexual assault (provided the service worker is not the perpetrator or alleged perpetrator of the violence or assault). The Act also amends the paid sick leave law by allowing such worker to take leave for (apparently once a year) a “mental health wellness day,” which is defined as “a day during which a service worker attends to such service worker's emotional and psychological well-being in lieu of attending a regularly scheduled shift.”
Public Act 23-145: An Act Revising The State's Antidiscrimination Statutes, which takes effect on July 1, 2023, amends existing law, which makes it a discriminatory practice to deprive someone of “any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by Connecticut or federal laws or constitutions, or to cause such a deprivation,” so as to cover discrimination based upon age. This Act further revises the state’s anti-discrimination statutes by changing the definition of “sexual orientation” so as to cover “a person’s identity in relation to the gender or genders to which they are romantically, emotionally, or sexually attracted, including any identity that a person (A) may have previously expressed or (B) is perceived by another person to hold.”
Effective July 1, 2023, Public Act 23-159 amends existing law regarding prohibited practice complaints to allow the State Board of Labor Relations (the “Labor Board”) to issue interim “cease and desist” orders to prohibit ongoing conduct allegedly in violation of the Teacher Negotiation Act. Prior to this change, the Labor Board lacked the explicit authority to issue interim cease and desist orders while prohibited practice complaints filed by teacher or administrator unions or boards of education were still pending before the Labor Board.
Public Act 23-35: An Act Expanding Workers' Compensation Coverage for Post-Traumatic Stress Injuries for All Employees expands workers' compensation benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder for witnessing certain traumatic events (e.g., certain deaths or maimings) to include all employees as of January 1, 2024; this benefit is currently limited to certain first responders.
Public Act 23-162: An Act Concerning Stop Work Orders, which takes effect on October 1, 2023, expands the ability of the Connecticut Department of Labor to issue stop work orders to include violations of the prevailing wage laws; the bill also increases fines for violations of stop work orders.
Public Act 23-175: An Act Amending Codification Of Prevailing Wage Contract Rates, which takes effect on July 1, 2023, provides that with respect to residential construction projects covered by the state’s prevailing wage statutes, the Commissioner of Labor must use the rates set in the collective bargaining agreements covering the same work in the same trade or occupation in the town where the project is being done; when there are two or more applicable agreements, the Commissioner is to use the agreement “of historical jurisdiction” (whatever that term might mean). If there is no such applicable collective bargaining agreement in the town at issue, the Commissioner is to use the applicable prevailing wage rate set by the U.S. Department of Labor. These new requirements already exist for highway and building projects.
Task Forces and Studies
Effective July 1, 2023, Public Act 23-160 requires the Commissioner of the CSDE to convene a family and community engagement in education council. The council shall have multiple responsibilities, which include: (1) advising the Commissioner on issues and policies related to family and community engagement in education; (2) providing parent and community feedback on products and initiatives offered by the CSDE; (3) reviewing and making recommendations regarding the CSBE’s five year plan concerning school-family-community partnership initiatives, and (4) reviewing and recommending practices to increase school and district capacity to develop partnerships and families’ capacity to support their children’s education. The council shall meet at least quarterly.
The council shall consist of school and district staff, parents and guardians of students and community members who reflect the state’s geographic, economic, ethnic and racial diversity. Not later than January 1, 2025 and annually thereafter, the council will submit a report on its review and recommendations regarding the comprehensive five-year plan regarding school-family-community partnership initiatives to the CSBE and the General Assembly’s Education Committee.
Prior law created a working group to make recommendations related to indoor air quality within school buildings. The recommendations were to include, among other things, the optimal humidity and temperature ranges to ensure healthy air, optimal heating, ventilation and air conditioning system performance for minimizing the spread of infectious disease; and protocols to be used by the school districts to receive, investigate and address complaints and/or evidence of mold, pest infestation, hazardous odors or chemicals and poor indoor air-quality.
Public Act 23-167 adds to the items for consideration and evaluation. These new items include (1) best practices for the proper maintenance of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in school buildings, including the frequency and scope of its maintenance, (2) a system of equitable distribution of funds, based on need, under a heating, ventilation and air conditioning grant program; and (3) ways to make the reports and results of the uniform inspections and evaluations of the indoor air quality (and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems) of school buildings accessible and searchable. The working group previously had until January 4, 2023 to submit a report to the General Assembly on its findings. Public Act 23-167 extends that time to July 1, 2024. The working group will terminate when it submits its report, or July 1, 2024, whichever is later.
Special Act No. 23-31: An Act Concerning a Study of The Effectiveness of The Implementation of Crisis Response Drills in Public Schools and Their Effect on Children’s Mental Health Act provides that the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (“DESPP”), in consultation with the CSDE will jointly conduct a study into the use of fire drills and crisis response drills in schools. The objective of this study is to learn more about the effectiveness of safety preparedness drills in schools, as well as any impact that these drills may have on student mental health. DESPP must issue a report on its findings to the Education Committee of the General Assembly by no later than January 1, 2025.
Public Act 23-150 establishes a “Connecticut Civics Education, Civics Engagement and Media Literacy Task Force” to study and develop strategies to improve and promote civic engagement and instruction on civics, citizenship, media literacy and American government. The task force is to be comprised of individuals selected by various leaders of the General Assembly, state office holders and education and civic stake holder groups and is charged with reporting its findings to the Education Committee of the General Assembly by January 1, 2025.
Public Act 23-101 expands the duties of the Task Force to Study Children’s Needs to include reviewing and analyzing the efficacy of programs designed to assist and support the needs of children and families that have received and expended funds pursuant to the various pandemic era stimulus programs. The Act also requires the Task Force to conduct a needs assessment for children that identifies 1) gaps between existing conditions and desired outcomes, and 2) the extent to which gaps are attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on children and individuals who were enrolled in Connecticut high schools and were members of the graduating classes of 2020 to 2023. The Task Force must submit its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly Committee on Children by January 1, 2024.
Public Act 23-101 also requires the Social and Emotional Learning and School Climate Advisory Collaborative to include in its annual report to the General Assembly’s Education and Children’s Committees recommendations concerning ways in which to promote the social and emotional development of young children (ages birth to five) covered under the state Medicaid program, by identifying age-appropriate methods of screening, assessment, diagnosis, treatment “and more.”
Effective July 1, 2023, Public Act 23-160 requires the convening of a working group to review CSDE mandates on boards of education. The working group is further tasked with making recommendations regarding (1) the development of a biennial review process to examine laws governing education in Connecticut for the purpose of identifying obsolete or duplicative mandates on the CSDE or boards of education; and (2) the repeal of or amendment to any such law. The Act specifies the composition of the working group and further requires the group to submit a report on its review of the educational mandates and its recommendations for the repeal or amendment of such mandates to the General Assembly’s Education Committee by January 1, 2025.
Public Act 23-167 requires the CSDE to conduct a study regarding the use of virtual reality as part of classroom instruction in grades nine through twelve. The study shall include a review of best practices for the use of virtual reality as part of classroom instruction, appropriate safety measures for such use and how a board of education may responsibly purchase virtual reality equipment and programs. The CSDE must submit a report of its findigs to the General Assembly’s Education Committee by January 1, 2025.
Effective July 1, 2023, Public Act 23-167 also requires the Commissioner of the CSDE to establish a working group to study current school discipline practices, including but not limited to those practices that lead to students becoming justice-involved. The group shall submit its findings in a report to General Assembly’s Education Committee no later than July 1, 2024.
For the school year commencing July 1, 2024 and each year thereafter, any board of education with a rate of in or out of school suspensions and/or expulsions that is deemed high or disproportionate by the Commissioner of Education shall (1) develop strategies to reduce the number of suspensions and expulsions; and (2) submit such strategies to the Commissioner. The CSDE shall, within available appropriations, provide support and oversight of such schools that are implementing these strategies.
Public Act 23-167 requires, the executive director of CTECS to convene a working group to determine the feasibility, cost and plan for the development of an aerospace advanced manufacturing high school. The working group must submit a report setting forth its findings on the matter to the General Assembly’s Education Committee no later than January 1, 2025.