(May 31) – Today, Governor Polis signed a package of bills that strengthen teachers in schools, create resources to better help students with dyslexia, and create better protections to prevent sexual misconduct at higher education campuses.

Rep. Barbara McLachlan’s bipartisan bill will create a pilot program that provides professional development training for school principals to build strong leadership in our education system and provide better support for educators and students.

“We must ensure teachers in every district–including our rural districts–have the support they deserve in our classrooms,” said Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango. “Teachers must have access to the leadership support they need. When teachers are at their best, our students receive the best education.”

Rep. McLachlan is the chair of the House Education Committee and is a former public school teacher in Durango.

HB19-1002 represents the latest effort by Colorado lawmakers to implement the state’s blueprint to reducing Colorado’s teacher shortage. It builds upon a McLachlan-led bill, HB17-1003, which required the Departments of Higher Education (DHE) and Education (DOE) to put forth relevant policy recommendations to address the teacher shortage. The pilot program will provide preliminary analysis on the efficacy of providing professional leadership and development training to Colorado principals, an effort supported by strong academic and statistical research. Because it is a pilot program, lawmakers in both chambers will have the opportunity to review the pilot’s results and make a decision for how to move forward following its conclusion.

Polis later signed a bipartisan bill sponsored by Rep. Janet Buckner, D-Aurora, that directs the commissioner of education to convene a working group to analyze state and national data and practices concerning identification and support of students with dyslexia and to recommend dyslexia screening tools and processes.

“Dyslexia is one of the most common learning disabilities affecting children. However, our public school system does not have a unified way of diagnosing dyslexia,” said Rep. Buckner. “This law will implement an in-depth process to enact the most effective program for dyslexia students here in Colorado.”

Finally, Gov. Polis signed a bill sponsored by Rep. Janet Buckner and Rep. Barbara McLachlan that would add more guidelines and protections around sexual misconduct and violence in higher education institutes in Colorado.

“Our current policy has a problem when we are seeing studies that one in five women and one in 16 men experience sexual assault during college. And what’s even more troubling is that only about 12 percent of victims actually report their assault,” said Rep. Janet Buckner.. “Sexual misconduct poses a serious threat to the safety of our students and interferes with our students’ ability to learn. This law ensures a fair and consistent response to sexual misconduct in higher education settings and creates equal rights for reporting and responding to parties in an incident.”

SB19-007 creates a fair and consistent response to sexual misconduct in higher education settings to ensure that all students know how to report abuse and know that the administrative process will be fair for both parties. It requires institutions of higher learning to adopt policies that clearly outline the process for survivors of sexual misconduct, to provide support services for survivors and to distribute information across campus to inform students of the institution’s policies and procedures. Additionally, the bill requires the Department of Higher Education to convene a biennial working group that will study best practices in order to prevent and raise awareness surrounding sexual misconduct.

“This law will help get rid of sexual violence and abuse on campus. While we are waiting for the federal government to adopt and clarify the law, we are making sure our state laws are ready to follow and maintain protections for survivors,” said Rep. Barbara McLachlan. “This is not a one-size-fits-all law but rather puts minimum requirements for policies regarding reporting and procedures for investigations for all higher education institutions.”

In 2017, the Trump administration rescinded guidance for institutions of higher education on how they should address sexual assault under the federal law, Title IX. The lack of federal direction means that states like Colorado have to step up to develop policies that promote and ensure the safety of students on campuses around the state or risk losing important protections.

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