House Education

Feb. 23, 2023


Rep Evans: Call the meeting of the House Committee on Education to order. Good morning, everyone. It’s good to see you all here. First, we want to just take special recognition. I believe today is Nurses Day at the Capitol. As education seems to be quite the hot topic in session right now, they are here celebrating themselves, not here for our purpose. So thank you all very much for being here, and for your dedication to health care. Members, without objection, I’m going to jump around on the agenda a little bit. Seeing no objection, we’ll start out with Senate Bill 232. Senator Clark. If you’ll introduce yourself for the record, you’re recognized to present your bill. 


Sen Clark: Thank you, Mr. Chair, members of the Committee. Alan Clark, State Senator District 7. SB 232 is truly a little bill that doesn’t do much, but what it does for those it affects is huge. It simply is the right to stay. That once a child is at a school, they can stay there. Families move, oftentimes they move a few blocks, move half a mile, think they’re in the same school district. People lose jobs, get divorced, all kinds of things happen. And a lot of times you’ve got a junior or a senior in high school. You’ve got a fourth or fifth grader, like to finish elementary school with their friends, et cetera. But whatever the reasons may be, this bill just says that once they’re there, they can stay. And there’s no fiscal impact, it says expressly that the school is not liable for transportation. I’ll be happy to take any questions. 


Rep Evans: Thank you. Senator Clark. Representative Cozart, you’re recognized for a question. 


Rep Cozart: Senator Clark, is there not something already in place kind of similar to this, that if they move, the parents move or they have to move or relocate, that a child can stay in that district, especially in their 11th and 12th grade year? 


Sen Clark: Not that we know of. And I know of situations this past year where because of circumstances, schools have actually demanded that a child be sent back to the area where they reside. 


Rep Evans: You’re recognized for a follow up. 


Rep Cozart: Well, I always thought there were. Being on the school board years ago, I thought there were. If there’s not, then this is a great bill. Thank you. 


Sen Clark: The only thing there might have been that I know of, Representative Cozart, is superintendents could have an agreement between themselves, but they never had to do that. 


Rep Evans: Any other questions from Committee? Seeing none, anyone in the audience would like to speak for or against the bill? Seeing none, Senator Clark, you’re welcome to close for your bill. 


Sen Clark: I’m closed. And I’d appreciate a good vote. 


Rep Evans: Representative Cozart has motioned do pass. Committee, any discussion on the motion? Hearing none, all those in favor of the motion say aye. Opposed nay. Congratulations, your bill has passed. 


Sen Clark: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you, members of the Committee. 


Rep Evans: Next, we will move to House Bill 1463. Representative Johnson. I do not see him. He did indicate he would like to run the bill this morning. We’ll pass over him and come back to him. We’ll go to House Bill 1393. Representative Pearce, I believe you have a guest here today. So you’re welcome to have them at the end of the table with you. If you’ll introduce yourself, have your guest introduce herself for the record. And then you are recognized to present your bill. 


Rep Pearce: Yes, sir. Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Committee members. And with that, I will introduce Carys. And for the record, would you state your name? 


Clark: For the record, I’m Carys Clark from Southside Charter High School. 


Rep Pearce: And so this Bill 1393, it’s an act to create a mental health awareness week in schools. And that will be in May, the first week of May is what we want to do it. And a lot of people got that confused at first with the first week of school. No, it’s in May. There’s no fiscal impact, no mandates. And it affects– if you see the bottom of the language, that bill took out some of the language and made it all schools. So all schools that want to opt into this, it’s completely fair for them to do so. And we’re just trying to make, get rid of the stigma and the misunderstanding. And first and foremost, I want, these children, we need to think about them. We’re going through a lot of things. You said education, you’ve already mentioned it. We’ve been going through a lot of things in 18 months. And y’all know what I’m talking about. We was all concerned about self and who was working from home, who was not. Did we worry about them? And with that, I will turn it over to Ms. Carys, and she can explain. They done this, they implemented this last year at Southside School, and she can tell you how it went over. 


Clark: Four students and myself noticed a need for better and more mental health resources. We started a campaign to bring awareness and to the struggles that poor mental health can bring. Through this campaign our goal was to educate students, faculty, and staff, and even the parents of students at our school. We saw the need for conversation about mental health, and there’s a negative stigma surrounding the topic in the sense that there’s something wrong with you if you struggle, or that it’s just something that we really shouldn’t talk about. To combat these issues, last April, we had a Mental Health Awareness Week. This week focused on teaching students healthy coping methods like putting new rhythms in their life to lead to a healthier mind. And we also introduced them to new tools that were being implemented into the school. While also making sure they’re aware of all the resources that were already available to them. The community backed us in this whole process and sponsored us to provide things like a known speaker to the students, stress balls, and even training for a therapy dog at our school. 


Something that these business partners were aware of. And one of the reasons that mental health awareness is so impactful is that the schools now are producing the future workforce.One day my generation will be the ones running these businesses or maybe even working for them. One of our main goals of this is for future generations to have a healthy mind and body and their future lives and in the workforce. Solving these mental health problems now can better prepare rising generations to be able to handle future life challenges in a healthier manner. Which will then cause them to be more engaged in the workforce and will result in higher productivity. These are very necessary qualities for Arkansas to have a successful future. To reach this goal of a healthy, successful future, we piloted the idea of having this week because we needed to stretch this beyond our school district. Although my school now has many resources for mental health, we have no idea what other schools across Arkansas have in place for their students. Having a Mental Health Awareness Week in schools will open up more conversations about mental health. Which can lead to solving the problem at the root. This will allow for a positive and successful future in Arkansas. Thank you. 


Rep Evans: Thank you for your testimony. Representative Pearce, ready for questions from the Committee? Representative Meeks, you’re recognized for a question. 


Rep Meeks: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have a question and a follow up if that’s okay. So my first question is, first week of May, any significance to that week, or why first week of May? 


Rep Pearce: Not to my knowledge. I’ll turn it over to my co. 


Clark: So many of you probably know that the beginning of the school year is very, very busy for a lot of schools. And having it at the end can prepare students for the time that they spend away from the school district. Because several children are not blessed with having a healthy home life and sometimes school can be their escape. And having this at the end of the school year can prepare them with the tools and coping methods to deal with these mental health struggles whenever they leave the school year and spend three months at home in the summertime. 


Rep Meeks: Okay, good answer. And then my follow up. And I think this is pretty self-explanatory. But within the bill, this is all voluntary for the school. So there’s no requirements for the school to do anything? 


Rep Pearce: Yeah, I mentioned no mandates. No, sir.


Rep Meeks: No mandates? Okay. I just wanted to verify that. Thank you for being here and for your testimony. 


Clark: Yes, sir. So it’s open for any school to do whatever works for them. For my school, we ended up being able to implement a therapy dog and talk about this during the week. Whatever the school feels there’s a need in their school they can do throughout the week. 


Rep Evans: Representative Vaught, you’re recognized for a question. 


Rep Vaught: Thank you, Mr. Chair. So I commend you on the work that you’ve done. It’s great work. I’ve been dealing with Mental Health Task Force Committee that we’ve been running for several months. And this is something that we talked about actually in our group. So I’m excited to see that y’all have brought this forth. And I want to thank you for all the work that you’re doing in your school and how that you are spreading the word to other schools. There is a great stigma behind mental health and there should not be a great stigma behind mental health. Because I think all of us at one point in time in our lives actually deal with something in mental health. So I commend you on your great work in your school. And I would have a, wouldn’t you agree that’s great work, Representative Pearce? 


Rep Pearce: Absolutely it’s great. 


Rep Vaught: And I will have a motion at a proper time. 


Rep Evans: Thank you, Representative Vaught, for that question. Representative Duke, you’re recognized. 


Rep Duke: Thank you, Mr. Chair. First of all, you’re an impressive young lady and it is intimidating to come sit at the end of that table for all of us. And you did it with such class and grace. And so I just want to commend you for that and for your school district and your parents, because wow, that was impressive. 


Clark: Thank you. 


Rep Duke: My question is. So I understand the time frame to a large degree, but in high schools, typically the end of the year, those weeks in May, preparing for graduation, preparing for or coming off of proms, testing. All those different pieces are extremely stressful on a staff perspective. And a lot of times the parents’ perspectives and I’m going to guess some of the teens. Is there any room for flexibility for a school district to, hey, we need to do this like the last week of April as opposed to the first week of May so that their mental health is okay. Because been there, done that and it’s hard, May is hard. 


Rep Pearce: Yes, Representative Duke, it is hard. I would agree with that. They did this last year in May, and I would have to refer to the superintendent to ask that question. I’m not an educator. But I do not think there was any big impact. And with the head nod, Superintendent Stevens, is there a better time? 


Stevens: No. 


Rep Evans: If you would come to the end of the table, please. If you’ll identify yourself for the record and then you may give your testimony. 


Stevens: Yes, sir, Chair. Dion Stevens, Superintendent, Southside School District. To answer the question, how these five students, what they did was remarkable. There’s always someone at a school district that will help students take up a cause. So really, the teachers were not expressly involved. In this case, it was the high school counselor, Ms. Jennifer Ford, that kind of took up the cause, did a lot of planning. So it was not really a lot on our staff and teachers. And it was a great community event and we thought the proper time. 


Rep Evans: You’re recognized for a follow up. 


Rep Duke: I understand that. And I like I said, I like all of this. I think everyone is not surprised here that I like local control. So I think sometimes it’s best to give flexibility. Whether it’s flexibility within a time frame or a flexibility just to designate that week. Because that may work for one school district. And I don’t know about other administrators, but it may not work as well in other school districts. So my question is, maybe y’all will entertain that as you go through this process to get some more input from other school districts or put a little flexibility piece into that for them to have that in it. Would that be something you would entertain? 


Rep Pearce: I’ll entertain anything for these children, Representative. 


Rep Evans: Is there any other questions from Committee for Representative Pearce or any of his witnesses? Seeing none, there’s no one signed up to speak for or against the bill. But I will ask the audience is there anyone who would like to speak for or against this bill? Seeing none, Representative Pearce, you ready to close for your bill? 


Rep Pearce: Yes, I’m ready to be closed, but I would appreciate a good vote for our future. 


Rep Evans: Thank you. 


Rep Pearce: I’ll close with that. 


Rep Evans: Thank you. Representative Vaught, you’re recognized for a motion. We have a motion do pass from Representative Vaught on House Bill 1393. Any discussion on the motion? Seeing none, All in favor of the motion say aye. Opposed nay. Congratulations, your bill has passed. 


Rep Pearce: Thank you, Committee. 


Rep Evans: Representative Johnson, did he ever come in the room? I do not see him. All right, we have just received notice, Representative Johnson, not ready to run today. Representative Long had asked us to pass over his bill today, as well as Representative Eubanks. Is there any other business to come before the Committee? Seeing none, we’re adjourned.