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Senate passes slate of education bills on chronic absenteeism, mental health, internet safety

A group of students sit at their desks and look toward the front of the room at their teacher.
Education bills concerning student mental health, cursive writing, human sexuality instruction and chronic absenteeism were passed by the Senate Tuesday.

A slate of education bills passed out of the Senate Tuesday after debate and endorsement from lawmakers. Those proposals will now move to the House for further deliberation.

Senate Bill 214 would require the Indiana Department of Education to publish student mental health resources online passed the Senate unanimously. The information would cover topics like substance abuse, youth suicide, interpersonal violence, human trafficking, child abuse and neglect.

After the resources are approved by the IDOE, school corporations and charter schools must post the resources online and in an area of the school that is accessible to students.

Senate Bill 282, an amended bill to study chronic absenteeism and receive legislative recommendations from school attendance officers, also passed unanimously. When first introduced, the bill proposed taking families to court more frequently for truancy. Changes to the bill now propose early intervention for young students.

Lawmakers extensively debated another proposal, Senate Bill 128, that would require school boards to approve courses on human sexuality. Sen. Andrea Hunley (D-Indianapolis) said those governing bodies are not experts on health education. She also said parents can already request to view those course materials and opt their students out of those courses altogether.

Sen. Gary Byrne (R-Byrneville), the bill’s author, said the bill creates more transparency and local control. The bill passed 38 to 10.

READ MORE: How do I follow Indiana’s legislative session? Here’s your guide to demystify the process

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Senate Bill 287, which would require schools to teach cursive writing and internet safety, also passed out of the Senate. Sen. Jim Tomes (R-Wadesville), one of the bill’s authors, shared the story of a young boy in his district who tried a dangerous social media challenge that resulted in his death. He urged the Senate to pass the bill and potentially save lives.

Co-author Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) discussed the importance of cursive handwriting when speaking in favor of the bill. Leising has long advocated for cursive writing curriculum in Indiana schools. She said Indiana students will miss out on job opportunities and fall behind because they cannot write in cursive.

Despite pushback from Sen. Andy Zay (R-Huntington), who said he is opposed to adding more mandates for the IDOE, the bill passed by a wide margin.

The legislation will now head to the House where it can be further amended.

Kirsten is our education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.

Kirsten the Indiana Public Broadcasting education reporter. Contact her at kadair@wfyi.org or follow her on Twitter at @kirsten_adair.