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These Texas laws impacting Houston schools will take effect Sept. 1 | #schoolsaftey

As the academic year begins, Houston-area school districts must comply with several new state laws that go into effect Sept. 1.

Texas state lawmakers passed several pieces of legislation affecting education during the most recent regular session that will require mandatory penalties for vaping, increased police staffing and more regulation of school library books deemed “sexually explicit” or “sexually relevant” this year.

Here’s what you need to know about the new state laws affecting your child and their school:

Increased vaping penalties

House Bill 114 requires districts to remove students from class and place them in a “disciplinary alternative education program” if they possess or use an e-cigarette, also known as vapes, or if they sell or deliver them to someone else. 

If the DAEPs are at capacity, the law allows for schools to place students who violate the law in in-school suspension until seats open up. It applies on school campuses, within 300 feet of school property or at school-sponsored or activities on or off school property.

State-appointed HISD superintendent Miles said Friday that the district will be complying with the law and is currently reviewing the number of seats in its DAEP programs.

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However, due to a limited number of seats, Miles indicated that the district may have to put some students who violate the law in in-school suspension due to limited capacity. 

“The biggest thing is this: children who go to DAEP, for whatever reason, should have high quality instruction,” Miles said. “We should not be sending kids to a place and give them less than high-quality instruction. We’re going to try to ensure that our children who get sent out of the school for whatever reason, including HB 114, … receive good instruction.”

Vapes are dangerous for children because they include nicotine, which can harm brain development, increase risk for future drug addiction and negatively affect mental health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. About 14% of middle and high school students reported e-cigarette use in 2022, according to a CDC study.

More police in schools

HB 3 mandates that districts must have a district peace officer, school resource officer or commissioned peace officer at every school during school hours and establishes other safety protocols and requirements.

Districts can claim an exception to the law if they do not have enough funding or qualified police officers to comply, but the school board must create an alternative plan, such as having school marshals or qualified employees serve as police officers. 

Miles previously said the district plans to expand its police force by 166 officers, but it’s going to be “very difficult to achieve.” He indicated the district would be seeking an exception and he would be asking the school to take action on HB 3 during its next regular meeting, which is scheduled for Sept. 14.

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In the meantime, Larry Satterwhite, a Houston Police Department executive assistant chief, said Friday that officers from HPD and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office would be “backing up” Houston ISD police officers so there is an officer at or near every school when classes begin.

“Every school will have an officer either committed to them there or close by … for anything that might happen (or) any type of call that might occur at or near the school that our officers can respond very quickly and deal with that,” Satterwhite said.

Potential school chaplains

Senate Bill 763 allows school boards to authorize the district to use part of their annual school safety allotment to hire chaplains to work at their campuses.

Chaplains can serve as mental health personnel, provide behavioral health services or assist with programs related to suicide prevention and intervention. They can also support the development and implementation of restorative justice programs and “culturally relevant instruction.”

The hired chaplains do not have to be certified by the State Board for Educator Certification, but they can’t have been convicted of any offense requiring them to register as a sex offender.

Each district must take a vote within six months after Sept. 1 on whether to adopt a policy allowing their campuses to employ chaplains or accept them as volunteers.

Regulating ‘explicit’ library books

HB 900, also known as the READER Act, requires library vendors to rate whether or not every book they sell or have ever sold to a school district is “sexually explicit” or “sexually relevant” before they can sell future materials to school libraries. 

The law defines “sexually explicit material” as anything that describes, depicts, or portrays sexual conduct “in a way that is patently offensive” and defines “sexually relevant” as anything that depicts or portrays sexual conduct. 

Under HB 900, vendors must recall any book designated as “sexually explicit” and school libraries are prohibited from possessing or distributing material rated as sexually explicit. Parents will have to give consent for their children to check out any book rated as “sexually relevant” unless the material is related to the curriculum.

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Every other year, districts must review all their library material rated as sexually relevant, determine whether to keep the material and publicly post a report with the title and location of all the reviewed materials.

While the bill goes into effect on Sept. 1, vendors have until April 1 to submit the list of library material rated as sexually explicit or sexually relevant to the Texas Education Agency. The agency can review “incorrectly rated” material and require vendors to correct the rating.

Some other new education laws include:

  • HB 473 requires districts to notify parents before a team they conduct a threat assessment of their child. It also allows parents to participate in the assessment, submit information about the student and get the findings of the assessment. The bill went into effect on June 13.
  • HB 567, commonly known as the CROWN Act, prohibits schools from having any dress or grooming policies that discriminate against a hair texture or hairstyle associated with race.
  • SB 838 requires that school districts install a silent panic alarm in each classroom that provides immediate contact with district emergency services and law enforcement agencies. Districts must comply by the 2025-2026 school year.
  • HB 1883 requires a school district to establish alternative dates for students to take exams if they’re scheduled on certain religious holidays or periods of observance. It went into effect on June 18.
  • HB 3803 allows parents to elect to have their children in elementary or middle school repeat a grade or repeat a course taken for high school credit. It became law as of June 13.

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