COLUMBUS—Senate President Larry Obhof (R-Medina) announced today that Governor DeWine has signed House Bill 164, also known as the “Student Religious Liberties Act.” The Act protects prayer and religious expression in public schools. The legislation also requires public schools to give students the same access to school facilities for the purpose of religious expression, as they do for secular student groups.
“This bill ensures that students’ First Amendment rights are protected in Ohio schools,” said Obhof, who co-sponsored the bill. “Today is an important step forward for religious freedom.”
In addition to protecting religious liberties, House Bill 164 includes an omnibus education overhaul that will help school districts as they prepare to re-open this fall. During Senate consideration of HB 164, the Senate added more than a dozen amendments providing important support and flexibility to Ohio’s K-12 schools as they plan for the new school year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“School administrators and teachers are planning for the upcoming school year and the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Obhof. “It was important for the legislature to provide the support and flexibility schools need.”
The changes received strong, bipartisan support in the Senate. Among others, the key changes are summarized below:
- Provides additional funding from the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) to each school district based on its combined state foundation aid and the federal CARES Act School Emergency Relief Fund.
- Reduces the Governor’s proposed cuts to primary and secondary education by capping the reductions at no more than six percent for the current school year when offset by federal CARES dollars. In the 22nd Senate District, this provided relief from higher cuts to the Buckeye Local, Highland Local and Medina City school districts in Medina county.
- Allows superintendents flexibility in assigning a licensed teacher outside of their subject matter or grade band in 2020-2021.
- Suspends the requirement that the State Board of Education increase the cut score for 4th grade promotion in the 3rd grade reading test for the 2020-21 school year, and allows districts to assign more teachers to assist struggling readers.
- Allows students who were unable to take their scheduled state end of course exams in spring 2020 to earn points toward their graduation requirements based on their letter grade for that course instead of having to take the exam in a subsequent year.
- Directs ODE to create an online bus driver recertification program in lieu of required classroom hours.
- Allows the governing body of a public school to adopt a remote learning model for the 2020-21 school year.
- Extends the current authority for licensed special education providers to serve children using tele-health and electronic communication through the 2020-2021 school year.
- Provides additional funding for school districts that have experienced valuation losses that were not accounted for through foundation funding.
House Bill 164 was passed as an “emergency measure,” so it became effective immediately upon the Governor’s signature today.