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New Kansas bills address school bullying, more workplace protection for teachers

Kansas Statehouse in Topeka, February 2014.

Restoring teacher tenure law expected to be an uphill battle

— Two bills dealing with public education that appeared to have died following last week's so-called "turnaround" deadline have been resurrected in the Kansas House.

One bill would require school districts to post copies of their bullying, harassment and cyber-bullying policies prominently on their websites, while the other would reinstate teacher due process rights, also known as tenure rights, which lawmakers repealed in 2014.

Those rights guaranty that a teacher who has been with a school district at least three consecutive years and has been offered a contract for another year is entitled to a due process hearing before he or she can be be summarily fired or non-renewed for a subsequent year.

In the House Education Committee, though, both of those bills were combined into a single bill, a move that Democrats thought would improve the chances of the due process portion ever reaching the floor of the full House.

House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said in an interview that he believed the combined bill could have passed the House. But he said Republicans who oppose restoring due process rights didn't want the combined bill to come out of committee.

Then, late last week, just before the turnaround deadline expired, both bills were reintroduced as new and separate pieces of legislation. They were introduced through the House Taxation Committee, which is exempt from legislative deadlines that affect most other bills.

House Bill 2757 now contains the language concerning teacher due process, while House Bill 2758 contains the language on bullying policy.

"I think folks wanted to look at them individually, and so we're going to have the opportunity to do so," House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, said in an interview Wednesday.

The House actually passed restoration of teacher due process rights during the 2017 session. But that only happened when a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans banded together to add it as an amendment onto another bill. That bill never made it out of the Senate.

Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, a civil rights advocacy group that focuses mainly on LGBT rights, said he has been working on updating the state's anti-bullying policy for schools since 2006.

He said the current law was enacted in the 2007 session, but that it hasn't been fully implemented in many school districts.

"School districts around the state adopted, for the most part, boilerplate (Kansas Association of School Boards) policy that was set out after the 2007 statute was passed," he said. "And they were supposed to develop implementation plans and training, but over half the districts have not followed through on the requirements of the statute."

Witt said he believes this year's bill has broad bipartisan support, but that there may be less support for the teacher due process bill.

"I would like to just see a clean bill where the discussion is around student safety and stay focused on that," he said.

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