Legislation to Create Substitute Pupil Services Personnel License

The Ohio House of Representatives is expected to vote on a bill that would create a license for individuals to serve as substitute pupil services personnel. HB 491 passed in the House Education and Career Readiness Committee on March 21 by a vote of 16-0. The bill enacts a new section of the Revised Code (3319.2210) that would require the state board of education to issue a substitute license to individuals who meet certain criteria and wish to serve as substitutes in the following positions:

  • ​Speech language pathologists
  • Audiologists
  • Registerd nurses
  • Physical therapists
  • Physical therapist assistants
  • Occupational therapists
  • Occupational therapist assistants
  • Social workers

The current version of HB 491 would require the superintendent to request and recommend an individual for the new license. Any candidate who wishes to obtain the license must submit both a copy of a valid occupational license as well as all materials necessary to complete a criminal background check. The license may include a term of 1–5 years as determined by the state board. The state board is prohibited from requiring any additional qualifications beyond those listed in the statute. A school district may only hire a substitute license holder in a substitute capacity.

The Ohio House will meet again during the second week in April, when it is expected to vote on this bill.

OAG Again Addresses Interest in Public Contracts

On March 16, the Ohio Attorney General released Opinion No. 2018-006, which again addresses board member interests in public contracts. In this instance, a member of a board of education leased a building through a limited liability company to the school district for which the part-owner served as a member of a board of education. This action was determined to violate R.C. 3313.33, which provides that no member of the board shall have, directly or indirectly, any pecuniary interest in any contract of the board. When such a condition arises, the board member must resign their position with the board of education or divest themselves of the contract.

In such situations, the lease can be determined void, voidable, or unenforceable at the reasonable discretion of the board of education. The OAG stated that a board of education may reasonably conclude that the lease continues to be valid and enforceable after the part-owner of the limited liability company takes office as a member of the board of education if several conditions are met:

  1. At the time that the lease was executed, the lease did not constitute a violation of 3313.33 for any member serving on the board of education at execution;
  2. After the part-owner takes office as a member of the board of education, the board of education takes no action to alter the terms of the lease that was executed before the part-owner took office.
  3. The board member divests himself or herself of the prohibited interest in the lease within a reasonable period of time after taking office.

For condition 3, the OAG opined that the person must act “immediately” to divest himself from the contract as part-owner if he wishes to remain a board of education member. Moreover, going forward, the board cannot enter into a new lease with the limited liability company after the current lease expires as long as the board member has an impermissible pecuniary interest in the lease.

The OAG also found that this circumstance could fall within the criminal provision in R.C. 2921.42, which makes it a criminal act for a public official to have an unlawful interest in a public contract. The exceptions include the following:

  • Contracts for necessary supplies or services
  • Where supplies or services that are unobtainable elsewhere or are being furnished as part of a continuing course of business established prior to the officials association with the public entity
  • The treatment accorded the public entity is preferential to or the same as to other customers
  • The entire transaction was conducted at arm’s length, with knowledge by the public agency and where the official takes no part in deliberations or discussions about the contract.

In this case, none of the exceptions applied.

The full opinion is available here.

Students’ Right to Protest: A Reflection on the Tinker Decision

In 1965, a group of siblings and a family friend in Des Moines, Iowa, decided to wear black armbands to school in protest of the Vietnam War. When the principals of their schools became aware of the plan, they developed a policy prohibiting such protests – a policy that the students chose to ignore. As a result, Mary Beth Tinker, her brother, and a high school friend were suspended from school. This is the backdrop of one of the most famous student free-speech cases in American history: Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Comm. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 509 (1969).  Indeed, most school administrators can quote a prominent observation of the Supreme Court as it relates to speech: “It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

In light of the current national movement of planned student protests around the country, this case provides important considerations on the authority of school officials to censor student expression. While the High Court held that expression in certain cases may be suppressed, it cautioned school officials that they must be able to show that their action “was caused by something more than a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompanies an unpopular viewpoint.”

As student protests on a national level gain steam and momentum, school officials must plan a response that is viewpoint neutral and measured in light of potential school rule infractions. Even when a student’s viewpoint is not unpopular, districts should consider imposing appropriate discipline if only to neutralize future viewpoint discrimination claims from students who wish to engage in speech or leave campus for a less popular reason. When student speech is coupled with other student expression such as walking out of class in protest of gun violence in schools, school officials maintain their obligation to adhere to student attendance laws, as any time away from school is time away from instruction and may result in truancy or disciplinary consequences. However, districts must remain aware that they can no longer suspend students for attendance violations. Disciplinary consequences are best reserved for the act of cutting class or causing substantial disruption to the educational environment.