Saturday, February 25, 2012

Weekend Update. It's Saturday and I'm live, but it's not 10:30 PM yet, so my ratings probably won't be as high as they are when Seth Meyers gives you the news later. I didn't get a chance to close the circle on the last few education-related hearings last week. Let me tell you, Thursday was a wall-to-wall day with all Education Committees going full blast. The morning started with the tensest meeting of the day as the House Education Reform Committee tackled HF 2293 (Davnie-DFL-Minneapolis), the bill that would extend the use of prone restraint, the method of subduing students with extreme emotional issues who act out violently in classrooms. Use of prone restraint was curbed by a pronunciamento issued by the Minnesota Department of Education early in 2011. If the Legislature had not intervened last session and included a provision that allowed continued use of prone restraint for another year in last year's omnibus education bill, prone restraint would have gone the way of the dinosaur. As it is, the Legislature must act on (and the Governor must approve) an extension again this year if the procedure is to remain allowed.

Prone restraint is a very controversial procedure. Some states have prohibited it, but most have not. Controversial as it may be, it is also necessary in some instances as a small number of students, especially those who attend programs like those offered at the intermediate school districts and a number of special education cooperatives, have extremely violent episodes that threaten the safety of staff and other students.

I don't want to go off on a rant here (but I will), but the fact that the Legislature has been forced to address this issue is what gets under my skin. The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), without consulting the authors of the bill that established the procedure and definitions that govern the use of seclusion and restraint or seeking clarification of the statute by proposing legislative language, simply announced that prone restraint was to be prohibited. Wish I could change the law with that level of dispatch. Seriously, an issue as important (and controversial) as prone restraint should have been dealt with at the legislative level and MDE's unilateral decision to prohibit its use was an inappropriate end run around the process.

HF 2293 was laid over for further discussion. A number of groups involved with the issue will be meeting in an attempt to fashion a compromise (which will be difficult to forge), leaving the issue unresolved for now. HF 2293's Senate companion--SF 1917 (Wolf-R-Spring Lake Park)--be be heard in the Senate on Monday.

A bill heard in both the House and Senate on Thursday was HF 2329 (Holberg-R-Lakeville)/SF 1908 (Hall-R-Burnsville), a bill that would require that school districts provide one-time training to all students in CPR and automatic external defibrillator operation at least one time during their junior and senior high school curriculum. A number of school districts are already doing this and the instruction usually takes half an hour or so and does not have to be provided by teaching staff. Instruction can be provided by local public safety or medical personnel. I need to hear from anyone who believes this mandate (and when something says "must," it's a mandate regardless of how well-intentioned) is going to cause a problem for them.

Elsewhere on Thursday, the House Education Finance Committee heard SF 946, the bill I authored in the House by House Education Reform Chair Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) that passed the Senate last session. Under the bill, a set of school districts can cooperate and extricate themselves from rules and regulations they see as thwarting innovation and driving up costs without increasing results. The bill passed the panel and will be heading to the House floor.

The Senate, after hearing the CPR bill and finishing up work on the bill that would allowed ninth and tenth graders to participate in PSEO, heard a report on Minnesota's achievement gap from StarTribune columnist and Center for the American Experiment contributor Katherine Kersten. Agree with her or not, Kersten has never impressed me as someone who continually goes offhalf-cocked and her report, while containing a number of viewpoints that don't reflect the consensus view of what should be done about the achievement gap, should contribute to the discussion.

Congratulations to Melrose. As a former gymnastics parent who sat through a few state championship meets, I wanted to congratulate the Melrose gymnastics team on winning the State Class A championship and Melrose gymnast Hailey Brinkman on winning the individual title. Unseating Perham as state team champions is no small feat. Perham, under the direction of coaching legend (and gentleman) Charlie Fleck, had won eight straight team titles and his roster of gymnasts has been comprised of countless individual event champions. So big time props to Melrose Coach Katie Masog (a former state champ herself) and the Lady Dutchmen!

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