Ohio Requires Schools to Adopt New Cell Phone Use Policies

Ohio Requires Schools to Adopt New Cell Phone Use Policies

On May 15, 2024, Governor DeWine signed House Bill 250 into law. The law mandates that all Ohio school districts adopt a policy governing students’ use of cell phones during school hours. The law is set to take effect on January 1, 2025. The law requires the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce (“DEW”) to publish a model policy that complies with the new legislation within sixty days of the legislation’s effective date.

Meanwhile, districts have until July 1, 2025, to adopt a policy that satisfies the following:

  • Emphasizes the limited use of cell phones during school hours.
  • Reduces phone-related distractions in the classroom setting.
  • If included in a student’s Individualized Education Program (“IEP”), or determined to be appropriate by the school board, permits a student to use phones for learning or to monitor health concerns.

Although the law does not require the banning of cell phones during school hours, it states that any school that chooses to do so will be viewed as complying with the new law.

Reason for Legislation? Governor DeWine and the state legislature are attempting to limit distractions in the classroom to “reestablish the opportunity for students across Ohio to immerse themselves in their classwork.” Increased cell phone usage is not only seen as a distraction to student learning but has been linked to damaging student mental health. The Passage of the law seems to follow an already growing movement across the state to cut back on cell phones in schools. Many districts have already adopted cell phone restrictions that appear to comply with the state’s new policy.

What This Means for Your District? While the core mission of the bill is to minimize screen time during school hours, Governor DeWine insists that districts will have the freedom to “create policies that work best in their environments and for their students.” The DEW is expected to release its model policy before March of next year. Any district that adopts a policy after January 1 of next year must do so at a public meeting of the school board and make the policy publicly available. This includes posting the policy prominently on the district’s website if they have one.










































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































Read it Here! Science of Reading Professional Development Requirements Published

Read it Here! Science of Reading Professional Development Requirements Published



 In late March, the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce published guidance for districts on how to fulfill the staff training requirement for the new literacy improvement provision of HB 33.  The guidance may be accessed here. That provision mandates that teachers and administrators must complete professional development in the science of reading by June 30, 2025. This new guidance lays out how the training requirements can be met by staff through identifying the training topics, vendors, resources, and details for these select professional development opportunities. The training is available in online modules in the Department’s Learning Management System in addition to face-to face meetings with trained facilitators.

The guidance notes that teachers and administrators who completed similar training, notably the professional development that supports the requirements of Ohio’s Dyslexia Support laws, may also satisfy the HB 33 requirements. A training comparison chart is included in the guidance document.

Finally, the guidance provides some instruction concerning the stipend due to teachers for completing this professional development. Stipend amounts vary from $1,200 for all K-5 teachers, 6-12 English language arts teachers, and all intervention specialists, English learner teachers, reading specialists, or instructional coaches for grades K-12, to $400 for 6-12 teachers of subjects other than ELA.  Districts must first pay teachers the applicable stipend and then seek reimbursement from the Department.   HB 33 highlights that teachers shall complete the course “at a time that minimizes disruption to normal instructional hours. “

What this Means for Schools: Now that the guidance and course identification information is available, districts can commence planning to these required professional development opportunities.  Districts are cautioned to review their collective bargaining agreements and consult legal counsel to determine the appropriateness of using pre-arranged professional development days for this coursework in light of the stipend requirement.





































































































































































































































































































































































































































































Career Tech Corner: CTC Construction Program Builds Interest in Construction Delivery Methods

Career Tech Corner: CTC Construction Program Builds Interest in Construction Delivery Methods

The last Biennium Budget Bill included grants for the expansion of career technical opportunities. Last fall, the Governor’s office announced that of the 59 applicants for the Career Technical Construction Program, 35 were awarded almost $200 million. This funding will be used to build and expand classrooms and training centers at JVSDs, compacts, and comprehensives across Ohio in various programs like engineering, manufacturing, health sciences, construction, and more.

There are various construction delivery methods available to recipients of these funds who choose to use the for construction projects. The main three delivery methods utilized by school districts are summarized below.

1. Design-Bid-Build (“DBB”). This is the more traditional method of construction delivery. With this method, the owner hires an architect to develop the plans, specifications and estimates of cost. This requires a qualifications-based selection process. The architect then assists the owner with bidding the various bid packages for the contract either through a single general contract or multiple contractors. This method is typically used for smaller projects such as minor renovations, pre-fabricated buildings, athletic facility upgrades, etc., but can be utilized for larger projects as well. The Owner would contract with the architect and each prime contractor coming onto the project.

2. Design-Build (“DB”). This is often confused with DBB even though it is an entirely different delivery method. Through this method, the architect is responsible for both the design and the construction of the project. The owner has a single contract with the design-build firm. The design-build firm is selected according to a two-stage selection process that first considers qualifications then technical and price components for the delivery of the project. Prior to selecting a design-build firm, the Owner must hire a criteria architect to develop the design criteria for the project. The criteria architect is hired using a qualifications-based selection process in the same manner as hiring an architect or engineer for professional design services. Design-build is considered a faster delivery method, however, this is because there is not a lot of owner input on the actual design itself, only the criteria for the design, i.e., what components and functions the finished build must have. This method is good for projects such as an additional wing of traditional classrooms that do not have unique design components.

3. Construction Manager at-Risk (“CMR”). This is currently the most popular delivery method for new school construction, major renovations and additions projects, and projects where the owner wants to have a lot of input on the design and functional components of the build. With CMR, the owner hires an architect for the necessary professional design services. The Owner goes through a two-stage selection process first considering qualifications, then technical and pricing proposals. The Owner combines the scores across both stages and awards a contract to the winner. The CMR serves as both the construction manager and the builder. The Owner has a single contract with the CMR and the CMR is responsible for bringing in all materials, labor, and equipment to the Project.

Districts undertaking large or complex projects may consider hiring an owner’s representative. An owner’s representative is a professional agent who advises the owner and supervises the project to make sure it stays on track. While it is true that the architect and contractor will have contractual obligations to the owner, they are not “in their corner” so to speak and may end up in an adversarial position if a dispute about the work arises. The owner’s rep in turn is the agent of the owner and their focus is on asserting the owner’s interests on the project. The Ennis Britton Consulting Group (“EBCG”) provides owner’s representative services. Barb and Steve Shergalis of EBCG are former architects very experienced in public school construction projects.

Each of these delivery methods has their own unique requirements for properly soliciting the contracts to get the Project off the ground. It is therefore important to make sure that you are taking all the proper steps to ensure you have a valid contract in place that does not expose the Board of Education to unnecessary liability risks. Please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Ennis Britton Construction Practice Group with questions about the right delivery method for your project.

































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































Ohio Requires Schools to Adopt New Cell Phone Use Policies

To Block or Not to Block: U.S. Supreme Court Issues A Free Speech Decision Regarding Social Media


 On Friday, March 15, 2024, the United States Supreme Court weighed in on the ability of public officials to block critics on social media accounts.

In Lindke v. Freed, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court established a test or factors to consider when determining if a public official had a right to block critics on social media accounts. The record of the case showed that Freed maintained a private Facebook account, which was updated to include his appointment to city manager of Port Huron, Michigan in 2014. He utilized his Facebook account to post about his personal life, information related to his job, soliciting feedback on issues of concern, and communicating matters from other areas of the city. Freed would comment to posts on his account and occasionally deleted posts he considered “derogatory” or “stupid.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, community member Lindke posted his displeasure with how the city was handling the pandemic on Freed’s Facebook page. Freed deleted these posts and eventually blocked Lindke from commenting on Freed’s Facebook page. Lindke sued alleging Freed violated his First Amendment Rights.

In its decision, the U.S. Supreme Court set a standard that a public official’s social media activity could be considered state action only if the official:
(1) possessed actual authority to speak on the State’s behalf, and
(2) purported to exercise that authority when he spoke on social media.

The Court clearly indicated “[w]hile public officials can act on behalf of the State, they are also private citizens with their own constitutional rights.” The Court provided guidance on what public officials could do to do to avoid having their social media pages, and the actions on the same, called into legal question.

Board of Education members and other public employees can assist by making matters clear to the community and courts (if challenged) through:
1. Considering single-use social media (only an official page and only a personal page). The Court highlighted the concern with “mixed-use” social media.
2. Clearly designating social media pages as personal or official.
3. Consider a disclaimer (e.g., “the views expressed are strictly my own”) to create a presumption that posts are personal.
4. Review of policies and actions (i.e. past practice) to consider who is responsible for the official messaging of the board of education.






























































































































































































































































































































































































Career Tech Corner: Pre-employment Drug Tests and Recreational Marijuana

Career Tech Corner: Pre-employment Drug Tests and Recreational Marijuana


Last year in Ohio, recreational marijuana was authorized by initiative petition.  The state is still in the process of creating a regulatory process that will allow marijuana dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana in addition to medical marijuana.  This is currently predicted to be rolled out in fall 2024. 

 Does your CTC have a pre-employment drug testing policy?  CTC education, occurring in lab and sometimes offsite environments differs in many respects from traditional school districts.  This includes unique risks regularly encountered in lab programs.  Due to some of those unique risks, which include operating heavy equipment, managing volatile compounds, working with sharp objects, and much more, ensuring safety for staff and students is paramount. 

 The law on medical marijuana reinforces an Ohio employer’s right to prohibit the use of marijuana and require a drug-free workplace.  None of the language enacted with the medical marijuana law has changed at this point as it relates to the recreational sale of marijuana. 

 Marijuana is still a Schedule I prohibited substance at the federal level, but there is reason to believe this may change in the near future.  In August 2023, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended that marijuana be reclassified from a Schedule I prohibited substance to Schedule III.  This was taken under advisement by the Drug and Alcohol Enforcement Agency (DEA).   In January 2024, a group of senators petitioned the Biden administration to remove it as a scheduled substance altogether.  While this seems unlikely, it is possible that a change in how marijuana is classified at the federal level could happen in the near future.  Changing the schedule of marijuana would affect interstate commerce, and production, and may affect how employers may enforce workplace rules.

 In order to ensure that potential CTC employees are able to effectively supervise, use, and teach career-technical programming involving labs and heavy equipment, they must not be under the influence of prohibited substances.  Pre-employment drug testing sends a message of the expectations of the employer and provides an initial assurance that the employee is not a current user of prohibited substances.  It may result in some self-selection as candidates may not apply if they are recreational or medical users of marijuana.

 There are some special considerations and inherent risks for career technical education in terms of labs and programs offered, and as such, may merit consideration of a pre-employment drug testing policy.  Contact the EB CTC practice team if you would like to discuss this.







































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































AI Generators: Appropriate and Responsible Use of Technology

AI Generators: Appropriate and Responsible Use of Technology

Educators are just beginning to scratch the surface on the utility of incorporating artificial intelligence (“AI”) in their work lives. AI is here to stay but educators must exercise caution in its use in order to satisfy legal and professional obligations.

 As stated by Scott Pelley on the April 16, 2023, edition of 60 Minutes, “We may look on our time as the moment civilization was transformed as it was by fire, agriculture, and electricity.” While a seemingly hyperbolic statement, those who have explored using AI will attest to the exciting possibilities and potential efficiencies.

From a legal standpoint, among other things, privacy concerns must be kept in mind. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”) mandates the protection of personally identifiable information that is maintained in education records and includes direct identifiers, such as a student’s name or identification number, indirect identifiers, such as a student’s date of birth, or other information which can be used to distinguish or trace an individual’s identity. When working with AI, educators must not upload personally identifiable information.

From a professional responsibility standpoint, the unmonitored use of AI could jeopardize an educator’s license. The Licensure Code of Professional Conduct for Ohio Educators requires the “appropriate and responsible use of technology.” The ninth principle mandates as follows: “Educators shall always use technology, electronic communications, and social media in a responsible and professional manner and appropriately safeguard the unauthorized use or access to electronic devices and data entrusted to them.”

One should keep this ninth principle in mind when utilizing AI. People are learning a difficult lesson that AI “hallucinates.” In other words, it makes things up. High-profile instances have occurred wherein attorneys have blindly copied AI generated text into their briefs, only to find that AI hallucinated the fictitious case law it produced. An efficient shortcut has resulted in damaged reputations and sanctions.
Individuals with a license, such as educators, must monitor the AI output that goes into their work product. Failing to do so could result in legal liability and could potentially amount to conduct unbecoming an educator.

Feel free to contact Ennis Britton if you have any questions about the legalities and professional obligations in utilizing AI. Be sure to catch our presentation AI Generators: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly at the COSSBA Annual Conference in Dallas, Texas on February 24, 2024 and BASA Ohio on March 20, 2024.

*Image was AI-generated using RF123.