Committee work continued on the hundreds of bills remaining in the process. Last week in the Senate, we started hearing House bills while simultaneously the House began hearing Senate bills. Both legislative chambers are now working, in committee, on those bills which were approved in the opposite chamber. All bills not approved in their house of origin are considered void.
One of the bills working its way through the committee process in the House is SB 497. This is a bill I authored and successfully got passed on the Senate floor several weeks ago. It will allow public school students to have more leeway in being able to attend extracurricular activities outside the classroom. I worked with the Oklahoma Department of Career Tech and the Oklahoma School Board Association in shaping the final Senate floor version of this legislation.
Several years ago, the State Department of Education started a push to make sure students spent more time in the classroom. This was and is an important goal, but that change sometimes forces school administrators to limit extracurricular activities that are a valuable part of the student experience. This definitely impacts current students whether they are in band, athletics or would like to have a “valid excuse” to be a Page at the state Capitol.
These policy changes enacted a few years ago have impacted Career Tech students the most. Students participating in FFA, FCCLA, BPA, DECA, HOSA, and TSA events have, at certain times, been limited by the new rules and unable to attend functions that are just as educational and transformational as classroom instruction. The rules have caused administrators to sometimes question whether they were violating state policy by allowing students to participate in worthwhile and educational events. Even though these activities would expand horizons and lead to personal growth, the administrators have, at times, had to say “no” so as to not be in violation of the rules.
It was one such example of this within our Senate district that was my catalyst for filing this bill. A Marshall County high school student, who was very active in athletics, FFA, and had a 4.0 G.P.A., faced missing out on a very good opportunity as a result of having incurred too many extracurricular “valid excuse” days. His administrators found themselves caught in the middle knowing the educational value of the opportunity yet having to interpret state policy.
Development of the soft skills of communication, self esteem, work ethic, responsibility and leadership are enhanced among Career Tech conferences, contests and other activities not solely occurring inside a classroom. For those who are college bound and those who are not, these particular life skills are very important.
A cookie cutter system pushing for only math, science and English-related outcomes will, in certain cases, mean an incomplete education. Yes, we must focus on the science and math related jobs through classroom exposure but not at the expense of not developing skills critical to the manufacturing base that have made America great for many generations.
Many extracurricular activities can enhance what is learned in the classroom and cause students to become much more excited about the learning experience. Extracurricular activities can also lead to lower drop out rates as they provide another arena where students can feel good concerning their student performance.
My bill, SB 497, would allow school administrators to approve ADDITIONAL activity absences for students who meet the requirements of being in the 10th-12th grade, have at least a 3.25 GPA and have received the principal’s permission. These ADDITIONAL excused absences are in addition to those authorized in the State Department of Education regulation 210:35-17-2. This bill would not inhibit the ability of any student to participate in current allowable activities; it would only add additional opportunities for students who meet the above mentioned requirements. Every student would still be subject to the ten day rule that is currently in place, allowing up to ten absences for activities, plus an additional five days if authorized by the local school board.
This change will simply allow school administrators to have more flexibility and local control in determining what is truly in the best interest of each student.
To contact me at the Capitol, please write to Senator Josh Brecheen, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 513A, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (405) 521-5586.