• Changes to Tennessee Education Laws, effective July 1, 2015
  • July 24, 2015 | Authors: D. Scott Bennett; Mary C. DeCamp
  • Law Firm: Leitner, Williams, Dooley & Napolitan, PLLC - Chattanooga Office
  • The following are changes to statutes governing public education in Tennessee that became effective on July 1, 2015.

    1. Social Issues

    The previous language set forth in Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-1-219 was deleted in its entirety.  The new language states that the Commissioner of Education, in consultation with the Commissioner of Safety, shall develop advisory guidelines for local education agencies to use in developing an annual report to inform high school students of any death of a person 18 years of age or younger resulting from a motor vehicle accident in which a driver was under the influence of an intoxicant or drug.  Further, the guidelines shall emphasize consultation with authorities at the local level. 

    Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 6, Part 10 added a new section stating that each local education agency, in consultation with the department and local law enforcement, shall institute domestic violence awareness education programs for middle and high school students.  The intent of these programs is to increase awareness and provide information and understanding of domestic violence prevention and to increase awareness of resources available to victims of domestic violence.  Schools shall ensure that each program is appropriate for the age/maturity level of the students who will participate in the program.  All students in every middle and high school within the school shall participate in at least one domestic violence awareness program per year. 

    2. Student Attendance

    Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 6, Part 30 was amended by adding a new section providing that, a school principal or principal’s designee may excuse a student from school to participate in a non-school sponsored activity if:  (1) the student provides documentation proving participation in the activity; and (2) the student’s parent or other legal guardian, prior to the student engaging in the activity, submits to the principal a written request for the excused absence.  This written request must be submitted no later than seven (7) business days prior to the student’s absence. 

    The written request shall include:  (A) the student’s full name and personal identification number; (B) the student’s grade; (C) the dates of the student’s absence; (D) the reason for the student’s absence; and (E) the signature of the student and the student’s parent or other legal guardian.

    The principal shall approve the student’s participation in the activity in writing.  Further, the principal may limit the number and duration of non-school sponsored extra-curricular activities for which excused absences may be granted to a student during the school year.  Notwithstanding that provision, a principal shall excuse no more than ten (10) absences each school year for students participating in non-school sponsored extra-curricular activities. 

    3. Employment

    (a). Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 5, Part 2 was amended by adding a new section that provides that no teacher or other educator shall be discouraged or disciplined by any supervisor for reporting inaccuracies, errors, or potentially inflammatory material in textbooks, and instructional materials or content to a supervisor, an elected official, or parent or guardian of a student.  No teacher or other educator shall be asked or required to waive the right to report inaccuracies, errors or potentially inflammatory material, textbooks, and instructional materials as a condition of continued employment.

    (b). Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-5-108(a) was amended by designating the existing language as Subdivision (a)(1) and adding, as Subdivision (a)(2),  a provision stating that the State Board of Education shall not deny licensure for principals based on whether the applicant graduated from a college or university’s masters program located outside of Tennessee.

    (c). Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-5-409(b) was likewise amended to require that teachers must receive notice of their dismissal or non-renewal for the following school year within five (5) business days following the last day of instruction for the school year. 

    (d). Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-13-117(b) was amended by deleting the current subsection and substituting subsection b(1) providing that years of service acquired by a teacher while on leave of absence to teach at a public charter school shall be used by the local board to obtain or determine tenure status so long as the teacher receives two (2) consecutive years of evaluations demonstrating an overall performance affecting this level of “above expectations” or “significantly above expectations” as required by Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-5-504 after returning to the traditional LEA. 

    New subsection (b)(2) further provides that if a teacher does not receive two (2) years of evaluations at the required performance levels, the time the teacher was on leave to teach at the public charter school will not be used by the local board to determine tenure status of the teacher.

    Finally, new subsection (d) to Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-13-117 provides that the section applies to charter schools authorized by the local board of education, the achievement school district, or the State Board of Education. 

    4. Licensure

    Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-5-108(c) is amended by adding a new subdivision providing that a supervisor’s, principal’s, or teacher’s license shall not be nonrenewed or revoked by the Department of Education based solely on student growth data as represented by the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System (TVAAS) or some other comparable measure of student growth. 

    5. School Performance

    Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-1-602(b) is amended by adding a new subdivision (3) directing that by October 1 of the year prior to the public identification of priority schools pursuant to subdivision (b)(1), the Commissioner shall notify a school and its LEA if the school is among the bottom ten percent (10%) of schools in overall achievement as determined by the standards set by the state board.

    6. Political Activity

    Previously, teachers were one of the groups of public employees and officers explicitly excluded from the provisions governing prohibited activity under the Little Hatch Act.  Tennessee Code Annotated § 2-19-201(3) was amended to abolish that exclusion.  Thus, teachers are now subject to these statutory prohibitions. 

    Given that, Tennessee Code Annotated § 2-19-206 has a new subsection providing that it is unlawful for any teacher to display campaign literature, banners, placards, streamers, stickers, signs or other items of campaign or political advertising on behalf of any party, committee, agency, or candidate for political office on the premises of any building or land owned by an LEA or to use any of the facilities of the LEA including equipment and vehicles for any such purposes.  This new subsection does not apply to the display of such political advertisements on LEA-owned property when it is displayed/used solely for the purpose of the LEA’s program of student education relative to the electoral process nor does it prohibit any teacher from displaying a decal or bumper sticker on the teacher's personal vehicle while the vehicle is parked on LEA property.

    Tennessee Code Annotated § 2-19-207(c)(2) now states that it is unlawful for any teacher employed by an LEA during those hours of the day when the LEA requires the teacher to be performing school duties to: (A) engage actively in a political campaign on behalf of any party, committee, organization, or agency; (B) engage in a campaign for a candidate for partisan or nonpartisan public office elected by the people; (C) attend political meetings or rallies; (D) use the teacher's employment to interfere with or affect the result of any regular or special primary election conducted within the state; or (E) perform political campaign duties or functions.

    A teacher is not deprived from voting for the party or candidate of the teacher's choice or of the right to express the teacher's personal opinion concerning any political subject.

    A teacher on leave or during the hours in which the teacher is not required to be performing school duties is not subject to the restrictions in (c)(2). No policy or rule of an LEA shall be more restrictive of the political activity of a teacher on leave or during those hours than those restrictions set forth in subsection (c).

    7. Policies

    Tennessee Code Annotated § 49-1-302(a)(5)(A) authorizes the State Board of Education to make policies concerning the revocation of licenses and certificate for misconduct. 

    8. Excused Religious Instruction

    Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 1, Part 1 is amended by adding a new section comprising language addressing excused religious instruction.  This amendment directs that local boards of education shall adopt a policy that excuses a student from school to attend a released time course in religious moral instruction for at least one class period during each school week. 

    The local board of education must provide a signed written consent form to every school within the school district for the student’s parent or legal guardian to sign prior to the student’s participation in the released time course.  The released time course shall be conducted off public school property. 

    The sponsoring entity shall maintain attendance records and make the records available to the LEA and the local board of education.  Any transportation to and from the place of instruction is the responsibility of the sponsoring entity or student’s parent or other legal guardian.  The sponsoring entity assumes liability for the student attending the released time course from the time the student leaves the school until the student returns to the school.  No public funds are expended and no public school personnel are involved in providing the instruction for released time courses.  The student must assume responsibility for any missed school work.  The local board of education, in consultation with the principal of the school, shall determine the courses or electives from which the student may be excused to participate in the released time course.  The released time course shall coincide with school class schedules. 

    The LEA, the local board of education, the local governing authority, and the State shall not be liable for the student who participates in the released time course. 

    The local school board’s written form shall provide a disclaimer that eliminates any actual or perceived affirmative schools sponsorship or attribution to the LEA of an endorsement of a religious instruction.  The form must also waive any right of the student’s parent or legal guardian and to hold the school, the LEA, the employees of the school or the LEA, or the state liable for the student participating in a released time course. 

    Instructors of released time courses are not required to be certified pursuant to Chapter 5 of Title 49.  Those instructors and other employees of their timed courses shall be hired by the sponsoring entity. 

    The time the students spend at the released time course shall be credited with time spent as if the student attended school and calculated as part of the actual school day.  Students shall not be penalized for school work missed during this released time.

    9. Violent Felonies Committed by Students

    Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 6 was amended to add new language in the form of a new designated part.  This language addresses punishment for students who are charged with violent felonies and provides that, when a criminal complaint is issued charging a student with a violent felony or a violent felony delinquency complaint is issued against the student, the director of schools may expel or remand the student to an alternative school for a period of time determined appropriate by the director of schools if the director determines that the student’s continued presence in the school would have a substantial detrimental effect on the general welfare of the school.

    Pursuant to this new part, if a student is convicted of a violent felony or upon adjudication or admission of guilt, the director of schools shall expel the student if the director of schools determines the student’s continued presence would have a substantial detrimental effect on the general welfare of the school. 

    Upon the student’s expulsion or remand to alternative school, the director of schools shall immediately give written or actual notice to the parent or guardian and the student of the right to appeal the decision.  Any such appeals shall be filed, orally or in writing, within five (5) days after receipt of the notice and may be filed by the parent or guardian, the student, or any person holding a teaching license who is employed by the school system if requested by the student. 

    The appeal from any such decision shall be to the board of education or to the disciplinary hearing authority appointed by the board.  The disciplinary hearing authority shall consist of at least one licensed employee of the LEA but no more than the number of members of the local board. 

    The hearing shall be held no later than ten (10) days after the beginning of the expulsion or remand.  Written notice of the time and place of the hearing shall be given to the parent or guardian, the student, a principal, and director of schools who ordered the expulsion or remand.  Notice shall also be given to any LEA employee who requested a hearing on behalf of a student. 

    After the hearing, the board of education or hearing authority may affirm the decision of the director of schools, order removal of the expulsion, remand unconditionally, or assign the student to an alternative program or night school, or suspend the student for a specified period of time.

    If this decision is made by a disciplinary hearing authority, a written record of the proceedings shall be made by the authority.  The student or principal may, within five (5) days of the decision, request a review by the board of education, provided that local school policy may require an appeal to the director of schools prior to a request for review to the board.  Absent a timely appeal, the decision shall be final.  The board of education may grant or deny a request for a board hearing and may affirm or overturn the decision of the disciplinary hearing authority with or without a hearing before the board provided that the board may not impose a more severe penalty than that imposed by the disciplinary hearing authority without first providing an opportunity for a hearing before the board. 

    If the school board conducts a hearing as a result of a request for review by a student, principal, or other administrator, the hearing shall be closed to the public, unless the student or student’s parent or guardian requests in writing within five (5) days after receipt of written notice of the hearing that the hearing be conducted as an open meeting.  If the hearing is closed to the public, the board shall not conduct any business or take a vote in any matter other than the appeal to be heard.  The action of the board of education shall be final. 

    If expulsion or remand of a student occurs during the last ten (10) days of any term or semester, the student may be permitted to take final examinations or submit work necessary to complete the course of instruction for that term or semester, subject to the action of the director or board of education upon any appeal from an order of a principal continuing an expulsion or remand.

    The director of schools has sole authority to re-admit a student expelled or remanded to an alternative school to the school in which the student was enrolled prior to the expulsion or remand.  An LEA is not required to enroll a student who is expelled or remanded in either this state or another state. 

    The director of schools for a school system in which such a student requests enrollment shall make a recommendation to the local board of education to approve or deny the request.  This recommendation shall occur only after investigation of the facts surrounding the expulsion or remand.  If the recommendation is to deny admission, and if it is approved by the board, the director of schools shall notify the Commissioner of the decision. 

    This provision applies to any violent felonies or violent felony delinquency acts occurring on or after July 1, 2015.