New Tennessee school laws now in effect

Rick Wagner • Jul 6, 2019 at 7:30 AM

Remember that civics test the Tennessee General Assembly mandated that students take but not necessarily pass back in 2018? Now students must pass that test before they get to graduate high school in the Volunteer State.

That’s among a group of new laws that went into effect in Tennessee July 1. They touch on everything from standardized testing to electronic vaping to women’s suffrage.

The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Supreme Court are subjects among the 50 civics test questions drawn from the citizenship test administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Students must get at least 70 percent right to receive their diploma, and they can take the online test multiple times. The goal is to build a more informed citizenry.

The state is also making a one-year return to paper testing for the annual TNReady assessment while Tennessee switches to its new testing company, and Gov. Bill Lee’s initiative to beef up vocational or career technical education to give students more opportunities for work-based learning and apprenticeships also begins this year.

Here’s a rundown, based on a recent report by Chalkbeat at https://chalkbeat.org/,of other new state laws:


All Tennessee teachers and high school freshmen must watch a video about human trafficking under a law aimed at increasing awareness about the dangers of children, young people and women being bought or sold, often for sex. The student video will fall under family life curriculum, and parents may opt their children out of viewing it, although the teacher video will be required training. It’s up to local districts to approve both resources. Eighty-five of Tennessee’s 95 counties reported at least one case of human trafficking in 2011, and 94 children are trafficked in the state every month, according to a report by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Vanderbilt University.


To mark the 100th anniversary of the amendment to the U.S. Constitution that gave women the right to vote, schools must teach about the women’s suffrage movement in all grades during the upcoming school year. The monthly instruction will recognize Tennessee’s role in the movement leading up to the ratification of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920, and the state Education Department will make resources available to teachers.


High schools will be authorized and allowed, but not required, to provide free feminine hygiene products such as sanitary napkins and tampons in bathrooms and locker rooms. The law aims to raise awareness that some students don’t have financial or emotional support at home to help them as they begin menstrual cycles.


Schools will be able to deal with vaping the same as with tobacco products under a new law supported by the Tennessee School Boards Association. That means they may ban vapor products anywhere that smoking or tobacco products are prohibited on school campuses. The law also doubles to more than 100 feet the distance from any school entrance that an adult staff member may smoke. And it prevents smoking on any campus after regular school hours.

Using electronic cigarettes, often called vaping, has overtaken smoking traditional cigarettes in popularity among students, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tennessee law already makes it a misdemeanor to sell or distribute vapor products, which like tobacco products are highly addictive, to someone under age 18 or to help them get such products.

Kingsport’s school board adopted stricter vaping rules back in April but expressed concern that the state limited school systems in such matters.


For districts that have cameras inside school buses, a parent or guardian may request to view footage if they believe that their student experienced harm, harassment, or bullying while being transported. They may not copy the footage and must view it under the supervision of the superintendent or a designee. A separate law took effect in May permitting districts to install cameras on bus exteriors to record images of vehicles that illegally pass when a bus stops to load or unload students. Violators of that law could be fined up to $1,000.


Districts must notify families about available school-approved early college and career experiences before their student registers for the next round of high school classes. That notification can come electronically or by mail, and the district also must post the information on its website.


Most Tennessee public schools already have a defibrillator device on campus for cardiac emergencies. But when school resumes, all 1,800 schools will be required to have at least one automated external defibrillator, or AED, on site. The device can restore a heartbeat during cardiac arrest, the No. 1 killer of student-athletes in the United States, according to the nonprofit group Parent Heart Watch.


Beginning in July, divorced parents who share custody of a child may choose which parent’s address to use when placing their student in a zoned school. The parents must have a parenting plan and agree on their school choice. If the student lives outside a school’s zone, the family is responsible for providing transportation.


Another new law will enforce Tennessee’s existing rule that juveniles who have been placed in a detention center for committing crimes must receive a minimum of four hours of educational instruction each day. Staff at some detention centers were not aware of the rule or ignored it, according to one sponsor of the legislation.

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