New Ohio laws will hit close to home in 2017

Ohio lawmakers are ringing in the New Year with the passage of more than fifty new laws.

The laws, which cover a variety of subjects from education to health to safety, took effect in Ohio on January 1. While some of these laws do not have a local impact so much as a state one, several of them are inciting changes here at Mason. The laws primarily affect the functioning of the school system as well as how students plan for the future.

Student Discipline

One significant law concerns truancy, which states that students may not be suspended or expelled for missing an unreasonable number of school days for inexcusable reasons. District Chief Operation Officer Todd Petrey said that Mason already follows this system with a five-step program that aims to discipline kids without suspension.

“Mason is already complying with that law,” Petrey said. “We’ve actually been asked to meet with the county and present to them how we do attendance. We have a five-step plan, and each step defines what we do for each day missed. Once the kid misses a certain number of days, we send a letter to the parents, then we ask for a doctor’s note, and at a certain point we ask for an intervention meeting.”

The new laws also mandate that the state must develop a “model school-discipline policy” that focuses on alternatives to suspension or expulsion. Students are also now permitted to complete missed assignments during suspension. Petrey said that Mason’s policy will look for ways to help the student before resorting to suspension.

“Our goal in Mason is to educate kids first,” Petrey said. “We realize that kids make mistakes. And we’ve always had the philosophy that we’re going to educate kids regardless of what they do. So instead of suspending kids and kicking them out, we look at what we can do to help them.It depends on what the child does to end up in the situation.”

Stem Curriculum

Other changes to the district include the introduction of STEM curriculum as early as kindergarten instead of starting in the sixth grade. The idea is to promote STEM subjects early on and have the programs carry on through grade school. Barbara Shuba, head of the science department at Mason, said the new law will only force learning on students, instead of letting students discover their own interests.

“I have a problem with laws forcing things that should naturally happen,” Shuba said. “I think if you let kids naturally take their course, they’re going to experiment. I love the idea that our school gave the personal learning days, and I hope our students will embrace that. I think the best thing would be to really go back and embrace learning for what it is, to learn. And to let kids explore what they want to explore, not check the box because some (law) told (them) to.”

Petrey said that the new law is important for developing problem solving skills early on in life.

“I think it’s outstanding,” Petrey said. “The more we can prepare kids to be problem solvers, to be creative thinkers, the better kids are going to do, not only in school, but in life. They will have those skills to address anything that they’re encountered with in life. So it’s very important, at the earliest levels, that we introduce things like STEM.”

Snow Day Regulations

Changes have been made to snow day regulations so that they no longer require schools to get state approval for making up school days lost to bad weather. Formerly, the Ohio Department of Education would be required to sign off on any “blizzard bags,” but now, schools are allowed to devise their own methods for making up the lost time. Petrey said that the district will continue to follow its current policy of making up snow days, which requires students to spend minimum number of hours in school per year instead of a minimum number of days.

Student Athletes

Laws have also been added to protect students from Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SAC), the leading killer of student athletes in high school and college. Athletes and their parents must now review guidelines concerning the risks and warning signs of SAC, and coaches are required to complete an annual training course on the condition. Boys soccer head coach Paul Reedy said that the law will help coaches create a safer training environment for student athletes.

“We want safe athletes; we want a safe environment,” Reedy said. “Anything that helps with that, we will fully support. I’m sure we will learn more about what we need to do before the next school year. I look forward to learning more about this new law and it should only help what we do here. We’ve gone through a lot of different training programs in the past. All of that is designed to help us so that we’re not ever doing anything that would put a student athlete at risk.”

Student Debt

Not all of the laws mean good news for students. More fees have been added to student loan balances and there is currently no limit for how high they can go. Debt collectors can now charge even higher collection fees on student loans. As a result, discussions have taken place about how to better inform high school students about the ramifications of college debt.

Senior Jack Bohls, who is planning on independently paying for college, said that laws should not be adding more fees, but rather help students by decreasing college tuition.

“Personally, I think it hurts students in the long run,” Bohls said. “Stacking more (fees) on top of debt just makes things worse. Especially if you don’t have more scholarships, it hurts. Right now the debt is ridiculous, and in the end, when you get out of college, you have to pay that back with taxes. I think colleges need to lower their prices. I think the government should force schools to lower their tuitions.”

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