Alert08.09.2021

Developments from the 2021 Session of the Connecticut General Assembly Affecting Public Schools

The 2021 Regular Session of the Connecticut General Assembly concluded on June 9, 2021, but the primary source of action on education law issues was a special session of the General Assembly and ensuing “budget implementer” Act.  The following is a brief description of acts that were passed by the General Assembly that may be of interest to Connecticut K-12 schools.  In addition to the legislation that directly relates to schools and school districts, this summary provides an overview of labor and employment legislation affecting public-sector employers as well as a discussion of some temporary, yet significant, changes to the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act related to remote and “hybrid” meetings.

EDUCATION LAW

IMMUNIZATIONS AND HEALTH ISSUES

Public Act 21-6:  An Act Concerning Immunizations.  This Act largely eliminates the religious exemption to the requirement that public and private schools condition a student’s entry into school upon providing proof of certain immunizations (including but not limited to immunizations against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, and polio), but only for those students whose initial enrollment in school is subsequent to the bill’s April 28, 2021 effective date.  The Act provides that the immunization requirement still does not apply to students enrolled in kindergarten through twelfth grade who, on or before the Act’s April 28, 2021 effective date, had already submitted the statement required under the prior law for the religious exemption. Such students remain exempt from the immunization requirement even if they transfer to another school in the state.

Students enrolled in pre-school or pre-kindergarten on or before April 28, 2021 who had already submitted the statement necessary for the religious exemption have until September 1, 2022 to comply with the immunization requirement, or within 14 days after transferring to a different public or private school program, whichever is later. The deadline for such pre-school/pre-K students complying with the immunization requirement can be altered if the school is presented with a written declaration from the child’s physician, physician assistant, or advanced practice registered nurse recommending a different immunization schedule for the child.

The Act retains the medical exemption to the immunization requirement, albeit with the medical professional now using a form prescribed by the Department of Public Health [“DPH”].  The Act also retains the prior requirement that where a parent or guardian is unable to pay for such immunizations, the expense (upon the “recommendation” of the child’s school’s board of education, or similar body governing a nonpublic school) shall be paid by the town. The Act requires the DPH to release annual immunization rates for each public and private K-12 school in the state.

IMPACT: School districts should update their immunization policies to conform with the Act as soon as possible to comply with the provisions of the new law which is now in effect.

ASTHMA CASE REPORTING

Public Act 21-121:  An Act Concerning The Department Of Public Health's Recommendations Regarding Various Revisions To The Public Health Statutes.  Among other things, this Act requires that (effective July 1, 2021) each regional or local regional board of education report on a triennial basis the total number of students in their schools having a diagnosis of asthma 1) at the time in enrollment, 2) in grades six or seven, or 3) and grades nine or ten.  The only change is that grade nine has replaced grade eleven.

EXERTIONAL HEAT ILLNESS TRAINING AND PREVENTION

Public Act 21-87:  An Act Concerning Education And Training In Exertional Heat Illness For Coaches, Parents, Guardians And Students. This Act requires persons with a State Board of Education [“SBE”] issued coaching permit who coach either intramural or interscholastic athletics to complete an exertional heat illness awareness education program before beginning their coaching assignment for the season and subsequently must annually review the program before the start of each coaching season.  This requirement commences in the 2022-23 school year.  The education program must be developed or approved by January 1, 2022, by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference [“CIAC”], in consultation with certain specified organizations. The program content must include: 1) recognizing the symptoms of an exertional heat illness; 2) how to obtain proper medical treatment for a person suspected of having the illness; 3) the nature and risk of exertional heat illness, including the danger of continuing to engage in athletic activity after sustaining such an illness; and 4)  the proper method of allowing a student athlete who has sustained the illness to return to athletic activity.  An “exertional heat illness” is defined as an illness resulting from engaging in physical activity in the heat, including heat cramps, heat syncope, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

In addition, CIAC must also develop for use by school districts: 1) annual review materials on current and relevant exertional heat illness information, and 2) a model exertional heat illness awareness plan, including best practices in preventing and treating exertional heat illness.  The Act requires school districts to implement the model plan using written materials, videos, or online or in-person training.  Commencing with the 2022-23 school year, the Act requires school districts to prohibit a student from participating in intramural or interscholastic athletics unless the student and his or her parent or guardian reads or views the training materials or attends an in-person training.  The parent or guardian must sign an athletic participation informed consent form issued by the school district that acknowledges compliance with the requirement.

IMPACT: As evident from the wording of the Act, school districts are now required to implement an exertional heat illness awareness plan, by January 1, 2022.

EMERGENCY ACTION PLANS FOR INTERSCHOLASTIC AND INTRAMURAL ATHLETIC EVENTS

Public Act 21-92:  An Act Concerning Emergency Action Plans For Interscholastic and Intramural Athletic Events.  This Act, which was signed by the Governor on June 30, 2021, will require each local and regional school district and private school to create (commencing in the 2022-2023 school year) an emergency action plan for responding to serious and life-threatening sports-related injuries that occur during interscholastic or intramural athletic events.  Each plan must include, among other things, a listing of the staff responsible for implementing the plan and the procedures to follow when a student sustains a serious sports-related injury (or suffers a cardiac or respiratory emergency).  The plan would have to be distributed, posted, reviewed annually, updated as necessary, and rehearsed annually by the staff responsible for its implementation.

IMPACT: Commencing in the 2022-23 school year, public and private schools must develop, implement and circulate written plans to address serious sports related injuries.

SPECIAL EDUCATION

Public Act 21-168:  An Act Implementing The Recommendations Of The Task Force To Analyze The Implementation Of Laws Governing Dyslexia Instruction And Training.  This Act largely addresses those laws governing teacher preparation programs, teacher certification, and elementary student reading proficiency assessments via the following revisions:

  1. It establishes an Office of Dyslexia and Reading Disabilities [“the Office”] within the State Department of Education [“SDE”] to verify whether teacher preparation programs (as a condition of approval) and teacher certification applicants comply with state legal requirements governing dyslexia instruction and training;
  2. It requires as an additional basis for a teaching certificate (commencing on September 1, 2023) verification that the applicant has met certain literacy training and education requirements;
  3. Commencing on July 1, 2021, it will allow applicants for certain teaching certification endorsements (comprehensive special education or integrated early childhood and special education endorsements) to substitute student teaching experience for supervised practicum hours;
  4. It requires the Office to provide guidance to higher education institutions and other teacher preparation program providers about how to verify whether practicum hour supervisors have obtained certain qualifications;
  5. It requires the SDE to revise previously-developed reading assessments for grades kindergarten through three to include new methodologies for measuring reading proficiency;
  6. On or by January 1, 2023, it requires the SDE to provide guidance to local and regional boards of education on administration of these approved reading assessments;
  7. Or or before January 1, 2022, it requires the SDE to develop or approve a voluntary family history questionnaire to be distributed during the 2022-2023 school year (and each school year thereafter) to assist in the identification, in whole or in part, of students who are at risk of reading proficiency challenges; and
  8. It requires the SDE to report to the General Assembly’s Education and Higher Education committees about the a) progress of the Office’s establishment and staffing, b) outcomes of the verification of teacher preparation programs’ and teacher certificate applicants’ compliance with state law, and c) the reading assessments approved and made available to school districts.

IMPACT: While mainly addressing teacher training regarding dyslexia and literacy matters, the Act will require action by school districts with respect to reading assessments and utilization of the voluntary family history questionnaire.

Public Act 21-46:  An Act Concerning Social Equity And The Health, Safety And Education Of Children.  This Act, which takes effect on July 1, 2021, requires that local and regional boards of education allow students enrolled in grades kindergarten through twelve to take up to two “mental health wellness days” during the school year, on which a student is not required to attend school.  These days cannot be taken consecutively.

Additionally, the Act requires the SBE to change its definition of the terms “excused absence” and “unexcused absence” to exclude a student’s engagement in 1) virtual classes or meetings, 2) activities on time-logged electronic systems, and 3) completion and submission of assignments, if the engagement accounts for at least one-half of the school day in which virtual learning is authorized.

The Act requires the SDE via its Commissioner to develop, and update as necessary, standards for virtual or “remote” learning. The Act also allows local and regional boards of education (commencing with the 2022-2023 school year) to authorize virtual learning to students in grades nine to twelve, inclusive, if the applicable board of education:

  1. Provides instruction in compliance with SDE standards, and
  2. Adopts a policy on student attendance requirements during virtual learning, which must (a) comply with SDE guidance and (b) count attendance of any student who spends at least one-half of the day during virtual instruction engaged in virtual classes, virtual meetings, activities on time-logged electronic systems, and turning in assignments.

The Act provides that such virtual or remote learning shall be considered an actual school session (for purposes of statutory 180-day and 900-hour requirements), provided virtual learning is conducted in compliance with the SDE standards.

Similar to Public Act 21-95, the Act requires that each local and regional board of education:  1) integrate the principles and practices of social-emotional learning throughout the components of its professional development programs; and 2) include goals for integrating principles and practices of social-emotional learning in its professional development programs in its statement of goals.  In addition, the Act requires each board’s professional development and evaluation committee to consider student priorities and needs related to student social-emotional learning and student academic outcomes when developing, evaluating, and annually updating a school district’s professional development program.

Also, the Act requires each school district in their policies and procedures encouraging parent teacher cooperation, to:

  1. Offer parents the option of attending any parent-teacher conference by telephone, video conference, or other remote conferencing platform;
  2. Conduct a) one parent-teacher conference, in addition to the two per year required under current law, during a period when the district provides virtual learning for more than three consecutive weeks, and b) one additional parent-teacher conference every six months after that if sessions continue to be provided virtually; and
  3. Request from each student’s parent the name and contact information of an emergency contact person who may be contacted if the parent cannot be reached to schedule a parent-teacher conference required if the district is providing virtual learning.

If after three attempts, a teacher is unable to contact a student’s parent in order to schedule a parent-teacher conference, he or she must report this inability to the school principal, school counselor, or other school administrator designated by the local or regional board of education.  The principal, counselor, or administrator must contact the student’s emergency contact to determine the student and family’s health and safety.

Finally, the Act requires local or regional boards of education to include the following in policies or procedures for collecting unpaid school meal charges applicable to employees and third-party vendors who provide school meals:

  1. A prohibition on publicly identifying or “shaming” a child for any unpaid meal charges, by (a) delaying or refusing to serve a meal to the child, (b) designating a specific meal for the child, or (c) taking any disciplinary action against the child;
  2. A declaration of a child’s right to purchase one meal (which may exclude a la carte items) for any school breakfast, lunch, or other feeding; and
  3. A procedure for communicating with parents or guardians about collecting a child’s unpaid meal charges, including (a) information on local food pantries, (b) applications for free or reduced-price meals and the Department of Social Services’ supplemental nutrition assistance program, and (c) a link to the school district’s website that lists any community services available to town residents.

If a child’s unpaid meal charges are equal to or exceed the cost of thirty meals, the Act requires the local or regional board of education to refer the child’s parent or guardian to the board’s local homeless education liaison.  The Act also allows local or regional boards of education to accept gifts, donations, or grants from any public or private source to pay off unpaid meal charges.

IMPACT: School districts will have to amend their excused absence policies and be ready to address the remote learning provisions in 2022-2023.  Commencing with the 2021-22 school year, references to parent-teacher conference procedures should be updated in board policies and any communications to parents and districts should also amend any existing unpaid school lunch balance policies and/or procedures to comply with the Act.  Districts should also educate staff on the changes set forth in this new law.

DRIVERS EDUCATION

Public Act 21-106: An Act Concerning Recommendations By The Department Of Motor Vehicles, Revisions To The Motor Vehicle Statutes And Peer-To-Peer Car Sharing.  Among other things, this Act affects drivers’ education programs by defining "classroom instruction" as inclusive of training or instruction offered in person in a congregate setting, through distance learning or through a combination of both in-person and distance learning, provided such distance learning has interactive components such as mandatory interactions, participation or testing.

STUDENT RESIDENCY AND MILITARY FAMILIES

Public Act 21-86: An Act Concerning The Enrollment Of Children Of Members Of The Armed Forces In Public Schools And The Establishment Of A Purple Star School Program.  This Act (which took effect on July 1, 2021) amended the student residency statutes by providing that when a child of a member of the armed forces seeks enrollment in a public school in a town in which such child is not yet a resident, the local or regional board of education shall accept the military orders directing such member to the state or any other documents from the armed forces indicating the transfer of such member to the state as proof of residency.  The Act also requires the SBE (within available appropriations) to establish a “Purple Star School Program” to designate schools that provide specific support services, assistance, and initiatives for military-connected students and their families.  A “military-connected student” is defined as a public-school student who 1) is a dependent of a current or former armed forces member or 2) was a dependent of a member killed in the line of duty.

IMPACT: Board residency and non-resident enrollment policies should be reviewed and amended as necessary to comply with the law’s provisions regarding the children of military family members.

MISCELLANEOUS/OMNIBUS BILLS

Public Act 21-144: An Act Implementing The Recommendations Of The Department Of Education.  This Act is an omnibus bill that would, among other things:

  1. Require that planning and placement teams [“PPTs”] for all special education students provide a statement of transition services in individualized education programs [“IEPs”] not later than the first IEP that will be in effect when the student turns 14-years of age (or younger if the PPT determines it to be appropriate); 
  2. Provide alternative methods for obtaining the bilingual education certificate with respect to how a candidate may fulfill the certificate’s written competency requirements for both English and the other language, and bifurcate the elementary level bilingual certificate into “elementary” for Grades K-Nine and “middle grades” for Grades Four through Nine;
  3. Require the Commissioner of Education to approve guidelines for secondary bilingual STEM and humanities teaching certificate endorsements, while setting forth the course requirements for such teachers;
  4. Eliminate the grade point average requirement for the resident teacher certificate;
  5. Require charter schools and cooperative arrangements be treated as “nongovernmental school operators” for purposes of criminal history records checks for school personnel, thus requiring criminal history records checks to also be conducted in accordance with the federal National Child Protection Act of 1992 and the federal Volunteers for Children Act of 1998, in addition to state law;
  6. Eliminate the requirement that charter school governing council and management organization members undergo criminal history record checks and provide that the criminal history record checks of certain contractors be conducted in accordance with the state law governing such checks (Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-17a);
  7. Permit the SDE (through the Attorney General) to bring a civil action (including for treble damages) in either state or federal court against any organization that has misused state funds or resources;
  8. Require that before a student receiving special education services enrolls in a Technical Education and Career System [“CTECS”] school, a PPT meeting must be convened by the residing school district to address  such student’s transition to the CTECS school and to ensure that such student’s IEP reflects the current supports and services that such student requires in order to access a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. A representative from the receiving CTECS school shall be invited to the meeting.  The Act removes prior language that permitted a referral back to the residing school district if the PPT determined that a student required special education services which would preclude such student’s participation in the program offered by the CTECS school.

IMPACT: School districts should ensure that their special education practices are up to date in order to address transition services at an earlier date and should be aware of the limitations on CTECS’ ability to decline enrollment to certain special education students.

Public Act 21-95: An Act Concerning Assorted Revisions And Additions To The Education Statutes.  This Act, which was signed by the Governor on June 28, 2021, covers a wide range of issues.  First, the Act would provide that the ability of citizens to petition for a public hearing of a local board of education be limited to any question related to the provision of education by that board.  This Act would also revise the vision screening conducted in the public schools to permit the use of an automated vision screening device that is not equivalent to a Snellen chart.  The Act also requires the addition of the following new members to each school’s safe school climate committee beginning with the 2021-2022 school year: 1) at least one teacher, appointed by the teachers’ union; 2) medical and mental health staff assigned to the school; and 3) in the case of a committee at a high school, at least one student from the high school who is selected by the students from the school in a manner the school principal determines.

The Act changes the name of the School Paraprofessional Advisory Council to the School Paraeducator Advisory Council.  It also requires the Council to conduct a study addressing issues related to this field and to develop paraeducator career development pathway proposals.  The Council must submit the study and proposals, along with any recommendations for legislation, to the General Assembly’s Education Committee by January 1, 2022.

The Act additionally requires the SDE to develop a plan to create and implement a statewide virtual school to provide virtual learning instruction for grades kindergarten to twelve through one or more internet-based software platforms. The SDE must submit the plan, along with any recommendations for related legislation, to the General Assembly’s Education Committee by February 1, 2022.  The Act also establishes a new task force to study the provision of special education services (including the role of regional educational service centers [“RESCs”], private providers of special education and inter-district cooperative arrangements) and special education funding. The task force must submit a report with findings and recommendations to the General Assembly’s Education Committee by January 1, 2022. 

Also, the Act permits the Commissioner of Education to grant a one-time extension to any acting superintendent’s probationary period if, during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, he or she was unable to 1) become properly certified or 2) successfully complete a State Board of Education-approved school leadership program.

In addition, the Act has significant provisions addressing issues of social and emotional learning that were originally contained within House Bill No. 6557 (“An Act Concerning Social And Emotional Learning”).  The Act would require each local and regional board of education to administer a universal mental health and resiliency screening to all students for the purpose of identifying students in need of interventions and support, with such screening provided over the next two school years to include a stress and trauma assessment related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Act requires the SDE to establish a state-wide social-emotional support program that provides support and assistance to school districts for mental health, social-emotional, behavioral support, trauma support and special education programs and services. The Act also requires the SDE to develop student social-emotional learning standards for grades four through twelve.  Additionally, the Act requires the Social Emotional Learning and School Climate Advisory Collaborative to convene a working group to review and make recommendations regarding the state bullying/school climates statutes and the inclusion of restorative practices in safe school climate plans, along with providing technical assistance and support to school districts in adopting and implementing the Connecticut Model School Climate Policy.

The Act requires that mandatory memoranda of understanding for school districts with school resource officer [“SRO”] programs include a provision that requires SROs to complete the same social-emotional learning and restorative practices training provided to the teachers and administrators of the school.  Finally, the Act additionally requires that the principles and practices of social-emotional learning and restorative practices be integrated throughout the components of teacher professional development plans and programs, and the statement of educational goals of school districts would need to include goals for such integration of principles and practices of social-emotional learning and restorative practices.

IMPACT: Board policies regarding citizen complaints should be reviewed for consistency with the new law.  Safe school climate committee membership should be expanded starting in the 2021-22 school year.  The universal mental health and resiliency screening and SRO memoranda requirements should be studied by superintendents to ensure proper implementation. 

Public Act 21-199: An Act Concerning Various Revisions To The Statutes Related To Education and Workforce Development.  This Act makes the following revisions to various education statutes that relate to gifted and talented curricula, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid [“FAFSA”] and other issues related to affordability and school attendance/withdrawal:

  1. It creates a new reporting requirement for boards of education with schools or districts that decline to implement the Community Eligibility Provision of the National School Lunch Program;
  2. It requires local and regional boards of education to develop a policy by July 1, 2022, for equitable identification of gifted and talented students that uses multiple identification methods that comply with State Department of Education [“SDE”] guidelines;
  3. It requires boards of education to create or revise by July 1, 2022 a policy for student placement in advanced academic courses or programs that is not based exclusively on academic performance;
  4. It requires boards of education to adopt a new “challenging” curriculum policy by July 1, 2022;
  5.  It creates new a content requirement for grades six to twelve student success plans so as to be aligned with the new “challenging curriculum” policy mandate and requires the plans to be created in collaboration with students and their parents or guardians;
  6. It requires boards of education to adopt a policy to improve the completion rates for FAFSA among twelfth grade students or students in adult education programs by July 1, 2022;
  7. It adds the FAFSA policy requirement to the list of goals that a board of education may include in its application to the Commissioner of Education for alliance district funds;
  8. It requires the SDE to publish and make available on its website the annual FAFSA student completion rate for the graduating class of each high school and each school district;
  9. It requires the Commissioner of Education to establish a working group to develop ways to improve student FAFSA completion rates;
  10. Beginning in the 2023-24 school year, it raises, from age 17 to 18, the age when a student may withdraw from school, but also allows a parent or guardian of a 17-year-old student to withdraw the student if he or she simultaneously enrolls in an adult education program;
  11. It raises from age 17 to 18 the minimum age at which a student can get permission from the education commissioner to take the GED or another SDE-approved high school equivalency test;
  12. It permits the Commissioner of Education to make recommendations to the Office of Policy and Management [“OPM”] and the General Assembly’s Education Committee to address issues with respect to higher education affordability; and
  13. It requires boards of education to update their written weighted grading policy to address additional courses and programs (e.g., International Baccalaureate, Cambridge, dual enrollment, dual credit or early college programs) by July 1, 2021.

IMPACT: School districts will have to adopt and/or update policies governing challenging curriculum, placement in advanced academic courses, identification of gifted and talented students, improvement of completion rates for FAFSA students, weighted grading and school attendance/withdrawal. 

Public Act 21-111: An Act Authorizing And Adjusting Bonds Of The State For Capital Improvements, Transportation And Other Purposes, Establishing The Community Investment Fund 2030 Board, Authorizing State Grant Commitments For School Building Projects And Making Revisions To The School Building Project Statutes.  This Act authorizes a variety of new bond issuances for state and municipal projects and cancels, reduces and/or amends certain existing bond authorizations.  Of particular relevance to educational institutions, the Act also authorizes fifteen school construction grant commitments and imposes a new requirement that water filling stations be included in all new school building projects seeking state reimbursement.  Additionally, the Act also requires that starting on January 1, 2023 the State Department of Administrative Services [“DAS”] provide biannual status reports on all current and pending school building projects of CTECS.  Such status reports must include the: (1) costs associated with each CTECS school building project, (2) anticipated date of the next project application for each CTECS school, (3) projected start date of pending projects, and (4) date of completion of current school building projects.

CANNABIS LEGALIZATION

Public Act 21-1 (June Special Session): An Act Concerning Responsible And Equitable Regulation Of Adult-Use Cannabis.  Buried in the much-vaunted recreational marijuana legalization bill is a provision that provides that on or after January 1, 2022, local and regional board of education policies governing student discipline and the use, sale or possession of alcohol or controlled drugs cannot result in a student facing greater discipline, punishment or sanction for use, sale or possession of cannabis than a student would face for the use, sale or possession of alcohol.

IMPACT: School districts should review and amend their student discipline and suspension/expulsion policies to comply with the above provision.

THE BUDGET “IMPLEMENTER”

Public Act 21-2 (June Special Session): An Act Concerning Provisions Related To Revenue And Other Items To Implement The State Budget For The Biennium Ending June 30, 2023.  The 790-page budget implementer bill that was passed during the special session contained numerous education related provisions and other changes effecting Connecticut Schools (some of which are not actually related to the budget), including the following:

NATIVE AMERICAN TEAM NAMES AND MASCOTS: Commencing in fiscal year 2022-23, the Act will render certain municipalities with schools that use Native American team names, mascots or imagery ineligible for grants from the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Fund.  In particular, the Act’s grant exclusion is targeted at municipalities that have a school or associated intramural or interscholastic athletic team under its board of education’s jurisdiction that use a name, symbol or image that depicts, refers to or is associated with a Native American individual, custom, tradition, or state or federally recognized tribe.  However, an exception to the grant exclusion applies if the Native American tribe depicted, or referred to, in a name, symbol or image provides its written consent for such usage.  Additionally, this section of the Act also provides a one-year grace period from grant exclusion – through fiscal year 2023-24 – for municipalities that provide written notice to OPM of the intent of the school or team under its board of education’s jurisdiction to change any Native American team name, symbol or image or obtain written consent from the applicable Native American tribe for its continued use.

DISTRIBUTING VOTER ELIGIBILITY INFORMATION AT HIGH SCHOOLS: The Implementer requires municipal registrars of voters to annually distribute information regarding voting eligibility on the fourth Tuesday of September at each public high school within a municipality.  The Act requires that the local registrar of voters and high school principal jointly determine the best means of distributing such information at the high school.

IMPACT:  High school principals should be made aware of this new provision.

WARNINGS OF MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS:  Portions of the Implementer Act addressing this issue, which became effective upon the Act’s June 17, 2001 passage, require town clerks to publish the “warning” (i.e. the notice) of municipal elections on the on the town’s web-site in addition to publishing the warning in a newspaper of general circulation within the town.  Additionally, the Act also specifies that the warning of municipal elections must include notice of the time and the location of sites designated for election day voter registration within the town along with the location of each polling place within the town.

MUNICIPAL ELECTION DATESOn or after January 1, 2022, municipal elections shall be held biennially on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in odd-numbered years, unless the legislative body of the municipality votes by a three-fourths vote to hold municipal elections on the first Monday of May in odd-numbered years.  If a municipality elects to hold municipal elections in May pursuant to a three-fourths vote of its legislative body, it may subsequently elect to change the date for its municipal elections from May to the first Tuesday after the first Monday.

MBR MODIFICATIONS:  Effective July 1, 2021, the Act makes several amendments to existing law with respect to the minimum budget requirement [“MBR”] for town appropriations for education.  First, the Act effectively makes the MBR’s provisions “permanent” by removing individual fiscal year references within the MBR statute – Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-262j -- in favor of general language mandating that in each year a town’s budgeted appropriation for education cannot be less than the prior year, subject to limited exceptions such as declining enrollment.  Second, the Act provides that fiscal year 2020-21 cannot be used for purposes of reduction to a town’s MBR due to declining enrollment.  Similarly, the Act also provides that in 2021-22 school districts that do not maintain a high school must use student enrollment counts from October 1, 2019 for purposes of determining reductions to MBR due to declining enrollment.  Presumably, these provisions were included in the law to prevent reductions to a town’s MBR stemming from reduced 2020-21 enrollment that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Third, the Act clarifies and expands upon existing MBR exclusions.  The Act extends until fiscal year 2023-24 a recently added MBR exemption for local supplemental COVID-19 school expenditures along with federal COVID-19 relief funds and clarifies that funds from the federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and from the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 are included within the federal COVID-19 relief funds’ MBR exclusion.  In addition, the Act provides that school infrastructure improvement grant funds shall not be included for purposes of MBR calculations.  Lastly, the Act also provides that notwithstanding any charter, ordinance, or special act to the contrary for fiscal year 2021-22 a town may appropriate additional funds to its education budget to satisfy its MBR obligation if the town’s educational cost sharing [“ECS”] grant is greater than what the town anticipated it would be when it originally adopted its fiscal year 2021-22 education budget.

ECS GRANT FUNDING AND FORMULA CHANGES: The Implementer Act also suspends previously scheduled decreases to Educational Cost Sharing [“ECS”] grants for fiscal years 2021-22 and 2022-23 for towns that are “overfunded” under the current grant formula, maintain scheduled increases in ECS aid for underfunded towns and extend the scheduled phase-in of increases and decreases by two years until fiscal year 2028-29.  Additionally, the Act also modifies the formula for determining a town’s base ECS grant by increasing the weighting percentage for the number of resident students in a town eligible for free or reduced-price meals or milk and for the number of resident students in a town who are English language learners. 

EXPANDED ECS REGIONAL BONUS FOR TOWNS SENDING STUDENTS TO HIGH SCHOOL ACADEMIES:   This section of the Act, which became effective July 1, 2021, modifies the existing definition of the “regional bonus” portion of the ECS grant formula by expanding applicability of the bonus to towns that pay tuition for students to attend incorporated or endowed high school academies, as well as by eliminating the existing ratio component of the regional bonus that reduces the per-pupil bonus payment in proportion to the number of grade levels serviced by applicable the regional school district.  As a result of these changes, regional and incorporated or endowed high school sending districts will see increased base ECS grant levels in future years.

Presently, there are three State Board of Education-approved incorporated or endowed academies that serve as public high schools:  The Norwich Free Academy; The Woodstock Academy, and; The Gilbert School in Winchester.  Under this section of the Act, towns that send students to these schools will receive a regional bonus to their base ECS grant based on the number of students sent to these schools.

Before passage of this Act, the regional bonus portion of a town’s ECS grant was equal to $100 per student enrolled in a regional school district on October 1 of each year multiplied by the ratio of grades, kindergarten to grade twelve, in the regional district up to thirteen.  So, for example, a town that sent one hundred students to a regional high school would receive a regional bonus of approximately $3,077 per year to its base ECS grant which reflects a $30.76 per student multiplier based upon a 4/13 ratio reflecting the fact that the regional high school only services four out of thirteen possible grades (inclusive of kindergarten).  This section of the Act eliminates the ratio component of the bonus formula entirely.  As a result, the same town that sends one hundred students to a regional high school will receive a $4,000 regional bonus since the regional high school services four grades.  This change to the regional bonus formula will apply to incorporated and endowed academies.    

ESSER FUNDS FOR OTHERWISE INELIGIBLE SCHOOLS: The Act requires the SDE to distribute federal COVID-19 school relief funds to schools which may otherwise be ineligible to receive the funds. The fund, known as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund [“ESSER Fund”], will be available to: any school ineligible for federal Title I funding or to any approved incorporated or endowed high school or academy (i.e., The Gilbert School, Norwich Free Academy, and Woodstock Academy).  The SDE is prohibited from distributing state or federal funding to any school if it would conflict with federal law, United States Department of Education guidance, rules, or regulations on the ESSER Fund.

IMPACT: Connecticut has received more than $1.5 billion in ESSER Funds. This Act ensures that the funding will be spread to as many schools as legally allowed under federal standards.

STATE CHARTER SCHOOL FUNDING FORMULA CHANGES:  Under current law, a state charter school receives a uniform per-pupil operating grant of $11,250 per fiscal year.  Under the Act, a state charter school will receive a per-pupil grant determined by a formula based on the ECS grant foundation (a fixed grant of $11,525), plus a percentage of the school’s “charter-grant adjustment,” which is based on student needs.

IMPACT: Charter schools may now receive their state grants with an adjustment based on school needs, which may increase grants for some schools.

MATERIAL CHANGES TO CHARTER SCHOOL OPERATIONS AND INCREASING CHARTER SCHOOL STUDENT CAPACITY:  Under current law, a charter school must submit a written request to the SBE to amend its charter if it plans to make a material change to its operations.  The new Act would require the SDE, rather than the SBE, to review the request and solicit comments from the local board of education in the town in which the school is located. Under the Act, any charter school wishing to increase its student enrollment capacity by 20% or more must submit a request to the SDE by April 1 of the fiscal year that is two years before the fiscal year when the change would take effect.  The Act lays out the various review standards for approving the request. 

MAGNET SCHOOL GRANT CONDITIONS BASED ON RESIDENCY:  The Act extends through the 2023-24 school year the requirement that (1) magnet schools comply with specific enrollment standards in existing law and that the education commissioner only award an operating grant to compliant schools.  The commissioner may only award a grant to schools that have (1) no more than 75% of the school enrollment from one school district and (2) total school enrollment that meets the reduced-isolation setting standards developed by the commissioner.

MAGNET SCHOOL OPERATING GRANTS: The Act requires the state to fully fund per-pupil magnet school operating grants.  Current law allows the state’s per-pupil magnet grants to be prorated to reflect available appropriations.  The new Act removes this provision and requires the state to fully fund the grants.

LIMIT ON MAGNET SCHOOL GRANTS: By law and unchanged by the Act, the total per-pupil operating grant paid by the state to a magnet school operator cannot exceed the aggregate total of the school’s reasonable operating budget, minus revenue from other sources.

SUPPLEMENTAL TRANSPORTATION GRANTS FOR MAGNET SCHOOLS: The Act changes the payment schedule and number of payments for a supplemental transportation grant for magnet schools that help the state meet its obligations under the Sheff v. O’Neill desegregation court decision.

GRANTS FOR PRIORITY SCHOOL DISTRICTS: The Act allocates $5 million in the 2021-22 and 2022-2023 fiscal years to the SDE to provide grants to towns with school districts that are identified as priority school districts [“PSDs”].  PSDs have students with low standardized test scores and high levels of poverty; there are 15 of these districts.  PSDs must spend the grants for certain purposes specified in statute, such as dropout prevention, alternative and transitional programs, and elementary and middle school accreditation.

WAIVER OF WORLD LANGUAGE REQUIREMENT FOR CTECS 2023 AND 2024 GRADUATES:  The Board for CTECS, or its Superintendent, must allow any student in the class of 2023 or 2024 to graduate without fulfilling the one-credit world language high school graduation requirement under state law.

TUITION FEE WAIVER FOR ANSONIA HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS TAKING MANUFACTURING COURSES:  The Act requires the Board of Regents for Higher Education [“BOR”] to continue waiving tuition and fees for Ansonia High School students to attend College Connections at Derby High School.  The College Connections program allows high school students to take advanced manufacturing courses and receive both high school and college credit. The Act also requires the BOR to waive tuition and fees for Ansonia High School students who participate in a manufacturing program offered in Ansonia or Derby which is offered outside the College Connections program.

REGIONAL BOARD OF EDUCATION RESERVE FUND: The Act increases the amount a regional board of education may deposit in a capital and nonrecurring expenditures reserve fund from 1% to up to 2% of the district’s budget for the fiscal year.

IMPACTRegional board of education administrators and board members should consider this change for future budgeting purposes.  Regional board business/budgeting policies may have to be updated if regional boards wish to avail themselves of this new provision.

GROWN FOR CT KIDS GRANT PROGRAM: The Act requires the Department of Agriculture to administer a new “CT Grown for CT Kids Grant Program” to assist school districts in developing farm-to-school programs.  The grant must be used to develop or implement a farm-to-school program, including: purchasing equipment, resources, or materials, such as local food products, gardening supplies, field trips to farms, gleaning on farms; providing professional development and skills training for educators, school nutrition professionals, parents, caregivers, and piloting new purchasing systems and programs.  The Act requires the Department to prioritize grants to applicants (1) located in alliance districts or who are providers of school readiness programs and (2) who demonstrate broad commitment from school administrators, school nutrition professionals, educators, and community stakeholders.

IMPACT: School districts will need to decide whether to participate in the CT Grown for CT Kids program. If so, districts must apply to the Department of Agriculture to receive a grant. The Agriculture Commissioner will prescribe the grant application form and process. The Department of Agriculture will provide technical assistance to grant recipients to develop and implement farm-to-school programs.

EXPANSION OF OPEN CHOICE PROGRAM: The Act expands the Open Choice Program for up to 50 students from Danbury and 50 from Norwalk in the 2022-23 school year.  Open Choice is a voluntary inter-district public school attendance program that allows students from urban districts to attend suburban schools and vice versa, on a space-available basis.  Its purpose is to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation; improve academic achievement; and provide public school choice. The SDE provides a per-student grant for school districts that receive Open Choice students.

STUDY OF EDUCATIONAL FUNDING:  The Act requires the state’s Office of Fiscal Analysis to conduct an independent modeling of the education funding proposal described in Senate Bill 948, which proposes the following education funding changes: a funding mechanism under which the per-student grants for magnet schools, charter schools, agricultural science and technology education centers [“Vo-Ag Centers”], and the Open Choice program are merged into one grant program.  The modeling must also look at funding for CTECS, including the funding at a system-wide, school, and per-pupil level, and the effects of racial equity within the system based on the funding.

MODEL CURRICULUM FOR K-8:  The Act requires the SDE (in collaboration with the State Education Resource Center) to develop by January 1, 2023 a model curriculum for Grades kindergarten through eight that may be used by local and regional boards of education.

NATIVE AMERICAN STUDIES AND CURRICULUM:  The Act requires the teaching of Native American studies as part of the social studies curriculum starting July 1, 2023.  It is required that the curriculum include, but not be limited to, a focus on the Northeastern Woodland Native American Tribes of Connecticut.

MINORITY TEACHER RECRUITMENT:  The Act requires the SDE to establish a “minority candidate certification, retention or residency year program.”  It also requires alliance school districts to partner with the operator of such residency program for purposes of enrolling minority candidates and placing them in such districts as part of the program; after the successful completion of the program by the candidate, the district may hire such a candidate. Ten percent of any increases in alliance school district funding would be allotted to such minority recruitment and residency programs.

IMPACT:  Alliance districts will need to partner with at least one operator of a residency-year program to place minority candidates in their districts as part of the program.

PROMOTING THE TEACHING PROFESSION:  The Act requires the SDE to develop a plan to assist school districts in promoting the teaching profession as a career option to students in high school and to provide school districts with information that promotes the teaching profession. 

IMPLICIT BIAS TRAINING:  The Act requires the SDE to develop and require school district personnel responsible for hiring educators to complete a video training module relating to implicit bias and anti-bias in the hiring process and requires teachers, administrators and pupil personnel holding teaching certificates to complete the same video training modules.

IMPACT:  Districts will need to ensure and document that the proper employees complete the video training.

STUDY OF CONTENT AREA MASTERY:  The Act requires the SDE to conduct a study of a multiple measures approach to demonstrating content-area mastery and to issue a report by January 1, 2023.

LATINO AND BLACK STUDIES: Commencing July 1, 2022, the Act requires local and regional board of educations to offer a black and Latino studies course to be developed by the State Education and Resource Center [“SERC”], once the course is approved by the SBE.  It also requires SERC to provide technical assistance to school districts for professional development and in-service training related to the teaching of black and Latino studies courses.

REMOTE LEARNING COMMISSION:  The Act creates the Remote Learning Commission to analyze and provide recommendations concerning the provision of remote learning to public school students enrolled in grades kindergarten through 12.  The Commission is tasked with issuing a report of its findings by July 1, 2022.  One of the main things the Commission is tasked with investigating is the feasibility of creating a state-wide remote learning school for students in grades kindergarten through twelve that would be maintained by and under the control of the SBE. 

STATE-WIDE REMOTE LEARNING SCHOOL:  The Act provides further direction regarding the requirements for any state-wide remote learning school that may be established.  It requires the SDE to develop a plan for the creation and implementation of a state-wide remote learning school for grades kindergarten through twelve.  The deadline for the SDE to submit the plan and any draft requests for proposal to carry out the plan is July 1, 2023. 

AUDIT OF PANDEMIC-ERA REMOTE LEARNING:  The Act requires the State Department of Education to conduct a comprehensive audit of the virtual learning programs provided by school districts during the COVID-19 pandemic and to develop guidelines for training educators in the provision of virtual learning through in-service training and professional development programs.

LITERACY AND READING INTERVENTION:  The Act requires (commencing July 1, 2023) local and regional school districts to implement a reading curriculum model or program for grades pre-kindergarten through three that has been approved by the Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success. The Center for Literacy Research and Reading Success, which is to be established by the SDE, shall approve at least five reading curriculum models or programs to be implemented by districts; such models or programs shall be: (1) evidence-based and scientifically-based, and (2) focused on competency in the following areas of reading: oral reading, phonetic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, rapid automatic name or letter name fluency and reading comprehension.  Districts are required to notify the State of the model or program that they have selected and allows for waivers from the State.  The section also allows the Commissioner to grant a board of education an extension of time to implement this section if the Commissioner determines that the board has insufficient resources or funding to implement any of the approved reading programs. 

The Act further requires the Center for Literacy and Research and Reading Success to compile, for the start of the 2023-2024 school year, a list of reading assessments for school boards to use to identify students in kindergarten through grade three who are below proficiency in reading and that provided an opportunity for formative assessment at least three times per year, in the fall, winter and spring.  It also requires the Center, on or before July 1, 2022, to develop an intensive reading intervention strategy that will be available to alliance districts that includes the availability of external literacy coaches with experience and expertise in the science of reading instruction. 

DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION IN EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS: The Act adds disability to the list of protected classes under Connecticut General Statutes §10-15c; this statute generally prohibits discrimination against students in the public schools.

IMPACT: This provision may require an update to board non-discrimination policies. In addition, this provision may also lead to an uptick of cases being filed with the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.

PER PUPIL VO-AG GRANT: The Act increases the state per-pupil grant for Vocational Agriculture schools by $1,000.

TRS EXEMPTION FOR REEMPLOYED TEACHERS:  The Act extends, until June 30, 2024, an exemption that allows retired teachers receiving a Teacher Retirement System [“TRS”] pension to return to teaching without salary limits if they 1) are receiving retirement benefits from the system based on thirty-four or more years of credited service, 2) are  reemployed as a teacher in a district designated as an alliance district, and 3) were serving as a teacher in that district on July 1, 2015.

IMPACT: Alliance districts will be able to rehire certain retired teachers without the normal TRS salary limits.

CHANGES TO SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION GRANTS:  The Act makes changes to the school construction grant waivers provided by Public Act 21-111; it also repeals waivers for three projects and modifies the waiver for another.

AWARDING SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTS FOR CONSTRUCTION MANAGEMENT SERVICES:  The Act delays until July 1, 2022, changes to the law addressing the awarding of contracts for construction management services and instead maintains the selection criteria required by current law until that date.

LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT

BREASTFEEDING IN THE WORKPLACE

Public Act 21-27: An Act Concerning Breastfeeding In The Workplace.  This Act, which takes effect on October 1, 2021, amends current laws regarding lactation rooms in the workplace to require (provided there is no undue hardship) that such lactation rooms 1) be free from intrusion and shielded from the public while the employee expresses milk, 2) include or be situated near a refrigerator (or an “employee-provided portable cold storage device”) where the employee can store expressed breast milk, and 3) include access to an electrical outlet.   

IMPACT:  All Connecticut employers – including school districts and other public employers -- must ensure that adequate lactation facilities are provided in a manner consistent with the new law except where the provision of such facilities would provide an undue hardship.

HAIR-BASED RACIAL DISCRIMINATION

Public Act 21-2: An Act Creating A Respectful and Open World For Natural Hair (the “CROWN Act”).  This Act. which took effect upon its March 4, 2021 passage, amends the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (and other Connecticut non-discrimination provisions) to prohibit discrimination on the basis of ethnic traits “historically associated with race,” including but not limited to “hair textures” and “protective hairstyles.” Such “protective hairstyles" are defined as including, but not limited to “wigs, headwraps and hairstyles such as individual braids, cornrows, locs, twists, Bantu knots, afros and afro puffs.”

IMPACT: School districts and public employers may need to amend their non-discrimination policies (employment and otherwise) to ensure that they cover all forms of racial discrimination.  Staff who are responsible for the investigation of discrimination complaints should familiarize themselves with the relevant provisions of this Act.        

AGE-BASED INQUIRIES ON JOB APPLICATIONS

Public Act 21-69: An Act Deterring Age Discrimination In Employment Applications.  This Act which goes into effect on October 1, 2021, amends the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act to make it a discriminatory employment practice for an employer to request or require a prospective employee's age, date of birth, dates of attendance at or date of graduation from an educational institution on an initial employment application.  The Act contains an exception for situations when 1) an employer is requesting or requiring such information “based on a bona fide occupational qualification or need,” or 2) such information is required to comply with any provision of state or federal law.

IMPACT: Arguably, existing law already prohibited such inquiries, but school districts and public employers should ensure that their job applications do not contain such forbidden inquiries.  

PREVAILING WAGE AND CONTRACTORS  

Public Act 21-154: An Act Codifying Prevailing Wage Contract Rates.  This Act which takes effect on October 1, 2021, codifies as the “prevailing wage rates” for covered construction contracts those rates established in collective bargaining agreements or understandings between employers and labor organizations for the same work in the same trade or occupation in the town in which the project is being constructed.  If there is more than one applicable collective bargaining agreement, the rate will be based upon the agreement “of historical jurisdiction.”

SALARY RANGES FOR VACANCIES

Public Act 21-30: An Act Concerning The Disclosure Of Salary Range For A Vacant Position.  This Act, which takes effect on October 1, 2021, will require employers to disclose to job applicants the salary ranges for vacant positions upon request or by the time an offer of compensation is made.  This Act also requires employers to provide wage ranges to employees upon a position change. Furthermore, this Act revises the state’s gender-based equal pay law by requiring employers to provide employees, regardless of sex, with “comparable” pay for “comparable” work (instead of the current “equal” pay for “equal” work).

IMPACT: School districts and public employers will have to be prepared to offer this information as may be appropriate to job applicants and persons changing positions. 

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION AND PTSD/PTSI

Public Act 21-107: An Act Expanding Workers’ Compensation Benefits For Certain Mental Or Emotional Impairments Suffered By Health Care Providers In Connection With Covid-19.  This Act which took effect upon passage (June 30, 2021), expands workers’ compensation benefits for post-traumatic stress injuries resulting from witnessing in the line of duty certain traumatic events (e.g., certain deaths or maiming) so as to include EMS personnel, Department of Correction employees, and “telecommunicators.”  This Act also provides such benefits to health care providers involved in responding to COVID-19, or who witness death or “traumatic physical injuries” linked to COVID-19.

PUBLIC SECTOR UNIONS

Public Act 21-25: An Act Concerning Access to Certain Public Employees By The Exclusive Bargaining Representative of a Public Employer Bargaining Unit.  This Act, which takes effect on October, 1, 2021, requires (among other things) that public sector employers provide their unions (or other representative employee organizations) with certain specified employee information related to bargaining unit members in an editable digital format and in a format otherwise agreeable to the unions.  This requirement applies both to new hires and (beginning January 1, 2022) to current employees.  The employer will have to provide such a listing of current employees every 120 days.

This Act requires such employers to provide unions with access to new employee orientations.  Upon request of either party, employers may have to bargain the structure, time and manner of access to such orientations.  In the absence of agreement, either party could then demand compulsory arbitration.  This Act requires employers to provide unions with access to employees (even during the workday) and to government buildings/facilities to conduct meetings with bargaining unit members.  The Act also gives unions access to the employers’ e-mail systems to communicate with the employees they represent. 

With respect to payroll deductions for dues paid to public employee unions, the Act requires: 1) public employers to rely on a union’s certification that it has and will maintain the deduction authorizations signed by the individuals from whose pay the deductions will be made; 2) unions to indemnify public employers for any employee claims about deductions that relied on that certification; and 3) public employers to direct employee requests to cancel or change their deductions to the union rather than the employer.  The Act explicitly prohibits public employers from (and makes it a “prohibited labor practice” for such employers to) deterring or discouraging public employees or job applicants from becoming or remaining members of a public employee union.  Indeed, the Act prohibits an employer from allowing any entity to use the employer’s email system to discourage either membership in a public employee organization or authorization of payroll deductions for the organization’s dues.

IMPACT: School districts and public employers should be prepared for their unions to request to bargain over the issue of access to their employees and will need to make sure that future collective bargaining agreements comply with the law.  Public employers also will need to prepare and update the information that must be shared with the unions. Finally, this Act reemphasizes the fact that public employers cannot get involved in intra-union disputes or in any way be perceived to be undermining their unions.    

PREVAILING WAGE AND RENEWABLE ENERGY PROJECTS

Public Act 21-43: An Act Concerning A Just Transition To Climate-Protective Energy Production And Community Investment.  This Act, which took effect upon passage (June 14, 2021), requires, among other things, the developers of covered renewable energy projects (other than either those selected in competitive bid processes or are under contract with another entity and approved by the relevant regulatory authority, all of these taking place before January 1, 2022) to meet prevailing wage standards if the project begins construction on or after July 1, 2021 and has a total nameplate capacity rating of at least 2 MW.  In addition, projects that have a nameplate capacity of 5 MW or more must also enter into a community benefits agreement for the community in which the project is located.

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION

Public Act 21-5: An Act Concerning The Removal Of COVID-19 Related Layoffs From The Unemployment Compensation Experience Account.  This Act which becomes effective October 1, 2021, provides that to the extent allowed by federal law “and as necessary to respond to the spread of COVID-19,” for any taxable year commencing on or after January 1, 2022, the experience period shall be calculated without regard to benefit charges and taxable wages for the experience years ending June 30, 2020, and June 30, 2021.

Public Act 21-98: An Act Concerning The Executive Director Of The Labor Department's Employment Security Division And Increasing The Compensation For State Board Of Mediation And Arbitration Members.  This Act which took effect upon passage (June 28, 2021), specifies that the Executive Director of the Department’s Employment Security Division shall be in the classified service and devoted full-time to the duties of his or her office.  In addition, this Act increases the compensation for State Board of Mediation and Arbitration members to 1) $325/day for each day beyond the first day of hearing, and 2) $200/day for each executive panel session.   

TECHNICAL AND MINOR CHANGES

Public Act 21-18: An Act Concerning Minor And Technical Changes To The Workers’ Compensation Act.  This Act takes effect on October 1, 2021 and has a title that largely speaks for itself.   However, the Act changes the title of “workers compensation commissioners” to “administrative law judges.”

Special Act 21-8: An Act Concerning A Disparity Study.  This Act, which took effect upon passage (June 14, 2021), requires the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, in consultation with the Department of Administrative Services, to issue a request for proposals for the conducting of a “disparity study.” The study shall provide an analysis of existing statistical data concerning the state’s set-aside program, to determine whether its current form achieves the goal of facilitating the participation in state contracts of small contractors and minority business enterprises.  

Special Act 21-35: An Act Establishing A Task Force To Study Cancer Relief Benefits For Firefighters.  This Special Act establishes a task force to study cancer relief benefits for firefighters.  Such study shall include, but need not be limited to, an examination of 1) the adequacy of the current firefighters’ cancer relief program and 2) the feasibility and implications of providing workers’ compensation and other benefits, including death benefits, to firefighters who are diagnosed with cancer acquired as a result of occupational exposure to noxious fumes or poisonous gases.  The task force is to submit its report with its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly’s Labor and Public Employees Committee by January 1, 2022.

CRIMINAL RECORDS

Public Act 21-32: An Act Concerning The Board Of Pardons And Paroles, Erasure Of Criminal Records For Certain Misdemeanor And Felony Offenses, Prohibiting Discrimination Based On Erased Criminal History Record Information And Concerning The Recommendations Of The Connecticut Sentencing Commission With Respect To Misdemeanor Sentences.  Among other things, this Act amends the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act so as to make it a discriminatory act to deny employment or to treat an employee differently solely on the basis of the person’s erased criminal record information.  The Act’s various non-discrimination provisions do not take effect until January 1, 2023.

IMPACT: School districts and public employers will have to ensure that their job applications do not seek information that is covered by this statute.

CANNABIS

Public Act 21-1 (June Special Session):  An Act Concerning Responsible And Equitable Regulation Of Adult-Use Cannabis.  The so-called cannabis legalization bill contains several employment-related provisions, which generally take effect July 1, 2022.  What is most important is that the Act provides that employers shall not be required to make accommodations for employees or be required to allow employees to: 1) perform duties while under influence of cannabis, or 2) possess, use or otherwise consume cannabis while performing duties or on the employer’s premises, except for possession of palliative cannabis by a qualifying patient.  More importantly, the Act expressly does not apply to any position or condition of employment governed by federal law or regulation that clearly preempts any of the Act’s provisions and other exempted positions (e.g., specified transportation, health care, and public safety positions, along with educational services/institutions and positions requiring supervision and care of children). 

THE BUDGET IMPLEMENTER

Public Act 21-1 (JUNE SPECIAL SESSION): An Act Concerning Provisions Related To Revenue And Other Items To Implement The State Budget For The Biennium Ending June 30, 2023. The 790-page budget implementer bill that was passed during the special session contained numerous employment and (even) FOIA related provisions (some of which are not actually related to the budget), including the following:

TIME OFF TO VOTE:  The Act requires employers (until June 30, 2024) to give employees two hours of unpaid leave on the day of a regular state election and specified special elections so that they can vote if they so request.  The employee must provide two working days’ notice and the request for time off must be for time occurring during both the employee’s workday and the hours the polls are open for covered elections.

IMPACT: While this does not apply to the municipal elections taking place in 2021, school districts and public employers should be prepared for leave requests for state elections taking place in 2022 (along with special elections for state and federal offices). 

CONNECTICUT’S FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE ACT AND PAID FAMILY MEDICAL LEAVE PROGRAM:   Among other things, the Act:

  • Requires the Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Authority (commencing in fiscal year 2022-23) to begin repaying funds from bond authorizations allocated to it under a plan established by the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management [“OPM”];
  • Permits, rather than requires, the Commissioner of Labor to conduct a hearing for persons aggrieved by a denial of paid family and medical leave benefits or the imposition of certain anti-fraud penalties; in lieu of a hearing, the Commissioner could decide the matter based upon the documentary record;
  • Eliminates a provision that explicitly excluded the State from being an employer covered by Connecticut’s FMLA;
  • Requires complaints of FMLA violations to go through an additional investigatory step (similar to the “case assessment review” process for CHRO claims) before proceeding to a hearing. The Act also explicitly subjects such complaints to a 180-day statute of limitations.

IMPACT: Currently, public employers are not covered by the paid family leave program unless they agree to include such employees in the program via concessions at the bargaining table.   

ESSENTIAL WORKERS COVID-19 ASSISTANCE PROGRAM: The Act establishes the Connecticut Essential Workers COVID-19 Assistance Program to provide benefits for lost wages, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and burial expenses to certain “essential employees” (as originally identified under Phases 1a and1b of the COVID-19 vaccine program) who could not work as a result of contracting COVID-19 or symptoms later diagnosed as COVID-19.  Benefits are available within available funds and on a first-come, first-serve basis, and will only be paid through June 30, 2024.  The Act specifically covers those essential workers who: 1)  died or could not work due to contracting COVID-19, or symptoms that were later diagnosed as COVID-19 between March 10, 2020 and July 20, 2021; 2) contracted COVID-19 as confirmed by a positive lab test or (if one was not available) as diagnosed based on the employee’s symptoms and documented by a licensed physician, physician assistant, or advanced practice registered nurse; 3) provided a copy of the test or diagnosis documentation to the program’s administrator; and 4) did not, during the fourteen consecutive days immediately before the  employee’s death or inability to work, a) work solely from home, with no physical interaction with other employees, or b) receive an individualized written offer or directive to work solely from home, but otherwise chose to work at the employer’s worksite.   Excluded from the Act are those federal employees who qualify for benefits under the COVID-19 workers’ compensation presumption included in the American Rescue Plan of 2021. 

In order to apply for benefits under the program, an affected person with a pending workers' compensation claim related to COVID-19 (or an affected person who does not have such pending workers' compensation claim), must submit a claim to the program administrator no later than July 20, 2022.  In addition, an affected person who does not have a pending workers' compensation claim related to COVID-19 must submit a claim to the administrator not later than one year after the date such person was initially unable to work as a result of contracting COVID-19 or due to symptoms that were later diagnosed as COVID-19 or July 20, 2022, whichever is later.

The benefits offered to an affected person under this program (subject to available funds) are payable on a retroactive basis from the date such person was initially unable to work as a result of contracting COVID-19 or due to symptoms that were later diagnosed as COVID-19 between March 10, 2020 and July 20, 2021.  Specifically, available benefits include: 1) weekly assistance for all uncompensated leave, calculated as 75% of such affected person's average weekly earnings,  after such earnings have been reduced by any deduction for federal or state taxes, Federal Insurance Contributions Act, and unemployment compensation benefits and temporary total or temporary partial disability workers’ compensation benefits for the same days of such claimed assistance, 2) all documented out-of-pocket COVID-19 related costs for medical and surgical aid or hospital and nursing service incurred directly as a result of the affected person contracting COVID-19, and 3) burial expenses in the amount of $3,000 in cases in which an employee died due to contracting COVID-19 during the period of any public health and civil preparedness emergencies declared by the Governor as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak in Connecticut.  Payments under this program would be an offset against any payments made under a workers’ compensation claim. 

PROHIBITION AGAINST EMPLOYEE DISCIPLINE AND MISINFORMATION FOR WORKERS’ COMPENSATION CLAIMS: The Act revises the workers’ compensation non-discrimination and non-retaliation statute so as to prohibit employers from deliberately misinforming or dissuading employees from filing claims for workers' compensation benefits or under the new Connecticut Essential Workers COVID-19 Assistance Program.

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION BURIAL EXPENSES:  The Act increases the worker’s compensation benefit for burial expenses from $4,000 to $12,000, with the benefit then subject to future annual indexing for inflation.

NON-UNION STATE EMPLOYEES: The Act requires (rather than permits) the Commissioner of DAS to give unclassified or non-union state employees in the executive and judicial branches the same rights and benefits provided by state employee collective bargaining agreements.

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION: The Act requires the Commissioner of Labor to establish an Office of the Unemployed Workers’ Advocate within the Department of Labor to assist unemployed persons.  The Act also requires employers subject to unemployment laws to report certain data about each employee (including data related to membership in a protected class) in their quarterly wage reports; the Act generally exempts employers’ and employees’ personally identifying information from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

TASK FORCES AND STUDIES:  The Act requires CHRO to oversee a study of equity in state government programs and actions with respect to race, national origin, ethnicity, religion, income, geography, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability.  DAS (in consultation with CHRO and OPM) must hire a consultant to conduct the study; the Act specifies the study's required components (including study of inequities revealed by or worsened during the pandemic) and requires submission of a report to the General Assembly’s Government Administration and Elections Committee by February 15, 2023.  The Act also establishes a task force to study the state workforce and the impact of retiring state employees. Such task force is responsible for studying, among other subjects, the number of managerial and exempt state employees that are eligible to retire, succession planning of executive branch agencies in preparation for retirements, and barriers to recruitment into the managerial and exempt workforce.  The task force is required to issue a report to the legislature by January 1, 2022.

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 

The budget implementer also contained temporary yet significant changes to the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act that seek to preserve pandemic-era executive order provisions permitting remote and “hybrid” meetings. 

On and after the effective date of this section (June 23, 2021) and until April 30, 2022, a public agency may hold a public meeting that is accessible to the public by means of 1) electronic equipment (a “remote meeting”) or 2) by means of electronic equipment in conjunction with an in-person meeting (a “hybrid meeting”).  “Electronic equipment" is now defined in the FOIA (as revised by the Implementer Act) as any technology that facilitates real-time public access to meetings, including, but not limited to, telephonic, video or other conferencing platforms.

If a public agency conducts a regular meeting by means of electronic equipment, such agency shall provide at least 48-hours advance notification in writing or by electronic transmission to each member of the public agency and post a notice that such agency intends to conduct the meeting solely or in part by means of electronic equipment: 1) in the agency's regular office or place of business, and 2) if the agency has an internet web site, on such internet web site.  The agency shall post the agenda for any such meeting in the same manner at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting.  Such notice and agenda shall include instructions for the public, to attend and provide comment or otherwise participate in the meeting, by means of electronic equipment or in person. Any such notice and agenda shall also be posted in accordance with “normal” FOIA provisions.

Any public agency that conducts a meeting (other than an executive session or special meeting) solely by means of electronic equipment (i.e., a remote meeting), shall: 1) provide any member of the public a) upon a written request submitted not less than 24 hours prior to such meeting, with a physical location and any electronic equipment necessary to attend such meeting in real-time, and b) the same opportunities to provide comment or testimony and otherwise participate in such meeting that such member of the public would be accorded if such meeting were held in person, except that a public agency is not required to adjourn or postpone a meeting if a member of the public loses the ability to participate because of an interruption, failure or degradation of such person's connection to the meeting by electronic equipment; 2) ensure that such meeting is recorded or transcribed, excluding any portion of the meeting that is an executive session, and such transcription or recording is posted on the agency's internet web site and made available to the public to view, listen to and copy in the agency's office or regular place of business not later than seven days after the meeting and for not less than 45 days thereafter; and 3) if a quorum of the members of a public agency attend a meeting by means of electronic equipment from the same physical location, permit members of the public to attend such meeting in such physical location.

PLEASE NOTE:  The Act provides that nothing in it shall be construed to require a public agency to offer members of the public who attend a meeting by means of electronic equipment the opportunity for public comment, testimony or other participation if the provision of such opportunity is not required by law for members of the public who attend such a meeting in person.

Any public agency that conducts a meeting shall provide members of the public agency the opportunity to participate by means of electronic equipment, except that a public agency is not required to adjourn or postpone a meeting if a member loses the ability to participate because of an interruption, failure or degradation of that member's connection by electronic equipment, unless the member's participation is necessary to form a quorum.

Any public agency that conducts a special meeting shall include in the notice of such meeting whether the meeting will be conducted solely or in part by means of electronic equipment and, not less than 24 hours prior to the meeting, shall post such notice and an agenda of the meeting in accordance with the FOIA.  If such special meeting is to be conducted by means of electronic equipment, such notice and agenda shall include instructions for the public to attend and provide comment or otherwise participate in the meeting, by means of electronic equipment or in person, as applicable and permitted by law.

Any vote taken at a meeting during which any member participates by means of electronic equipment shall be taken by roll call, unless the vote is unanimous.  The minutes of the meeting shall record a list of members that attended such meeting in person and a list of members that attended such meeting by means of electronic equipment.

Any member of a public agency or the public who participates orally in a meeting of a public agency conducted by means of electronic equipment shall make a good faith effort to state such member's name and title, if applicable, at the outset of each occasion in which such member participates orally during an uninterrupted dialogue or series of questions and answers.

Whenever a meeting being conducted by means of electronic equipment is interrupted by the failure, disconnection or, in the chairperson's determination, unacceptable degradation of the electronic means of conducting a meeting, or if a member necessary to form a quorum loses the ability to participate because of the interruption, failure or degradation of such member's connection by electronic equipment, the public agency may, for not less than 30 minutes and not more than two hours from the time of the interruption or the chairperson's determination, resume the meeting 1) in person, if a quorum is present in person, or 2) if a quorum is restored by means of electronic equipment, solely or in part by such electronic equipment.  In each case of resumption of a meeting, electronic access shall be restored to the public if such capability has been restored. The public agency shall, if practicable, post a notification on its internet web site and inform attendees by electronic transmission of the expected time of resumption or of the adjournment or postponement of the meeting, as applicable, and may announce at the beginning of any meeting what preplanned procedures are in place for resumption of a meeting in the event of an interruption.

The Act also requires that notices of adjournment be posted on the agency’s website. The Act further provides that with respect to persons who are attending a meeting by electronic equipment and who are disrupting a meeting so as to render the orderly conduct of the meeting unfeasible, the agency may terminate such persons’ attendance by electronic equipment until such times as such persons conform to order (or until the meeting is closed, if necessary).  The Act contains a similar provision for town meetings. 

Finally, the Act empowers the Connecticut Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (in consultation with the Freedom of Information Commission and the Connecticut Association of Municipal Attorneys) to conduct a study concerning the implementation of the temporary provisions of the Act that permit the continued existence of remote and hybrid meetings, along with the feasibility of remote participation and voting during meetings, including remote voting using electronic equipment such as conference call, videoconference or other technology.  The Commission is required to issue a report to the General Assembly‘s government administration and planning and development committees by February 1, 2022, with: 1) its findings; 2) recommendations concerning best practices for the implementation of these provisions; 3) an analysis of the feasibility of remote participation and voting during meetings using electronic equipment such as conference call, videoconference or other technology, and; 4) the identification of funding sources for the implementation of remote participation and voting during meetings using such electronic equipment.

IMPACT: While the Act continues much of what was in prior executive orders governing remote and hybrid meetings, there are important distinctions, such as having to provide (upon request of a member of the public) a physical location and electronic equipment necessary to attend a regular meeting in real time.  The Act continues to provide board members with an absolute right to attend meetings remotely, even if such meetings are held in-person.

Please contact any of our School Law attorneys named above should you have any questions regarding the acts that were passed and how they may impact your school and school district. 

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