NC teacher misconduct and computer science bills become law

NC teacher misconduct and computer science bills become law

New laws have been approved that add a computer science high school graduation requirement and that toughen the punishment for teachers caught having sex with students.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper announced Monday that he’s signed seven bills into law, including ones dealing with school employee misconduct and high school graduation requirements. Both bills had been overwhelmingly approved by the General Assembly with bipartisan support.

Cooper also announced Monday he’s letting three bills become law without his signature. This includes a new law that takes authority away from the N.C. High School Athletic Association and grants more control over high school sports to Republican State Superintendent Catherine Truitt.

Under the new law, the NCHSAA would now enter into an agreement to oversee high school sports with the state superintendent, including reporting requirements and audits.

If an agreement is not reached with an administrative organization, the superintendent would take charge of high school athletics.

Teacher misconduct bill

The “Protect Our Students Act” elevates it to a Class G felony for a school employee who is convicted of sexual activity with a student or taking indecent liberties with a student. The new law also raises it to a Class I felony for school leaders who fail to promptly report teacher misconduct to the State Board of Education.

School employees could be charged with a crime if they start a sexual relationship within six months of a student leaving school.

In addition, the law requires the N.C. Center for Safer Schools to produce and distribute an age-appropriate video for grades 6-12 to identify acceptable and unacceptable student-teacher interactions.

The law had been requested by Truitt.

At a legislative committee meeting in February, Truitt said 124 North Carolina teachers had their licenses suspended, revoked or voluntarily surrendered for sexual misconduct with students between January 2016 and October 2022.

“We know the overwhelming majority of educators will never come anywhere close to violating the rights of students,” Truitt said in a news release Monday. “However, I firmly believe that one instance of sexual misconduct is too many. This legislation protects and informs students, while outlining and increasing the penalties for offenders.”

The bill was amended at the last minute by the Senate to include a requirement that the Bumconbe County school board and Asheville school board study merging the two districts.

Computer science requirement

House Bill 8 makes North Carolina the eighth state to require a computer science course to graduate from high school. This new requirement would apply beginning with students who enter ninth-grade next school year.

The legislation doesn’t increase the number of credits students need to complete to graduate. Instead, it requires the State Board of Education to reduce the number of required elective courses.

An earlier version of the bill would have required the state board to eliminate the earth science requirement. But it was dropped after science teachers complained.

The state is training more teachers to teach computer science. But due to the potential shortage, school districts won’t have to begin offering computer science classes until the 2026-27 school year.

“Computer science has permeated every facet of society,” Truitt said in a news release. “By adding computer science to our graduation requirements, we are ensuring that students gain first-hand experience in this ever-growing discipline so that they can be better prepared to pursue the postsecondary plan of their choice.”

The bill was amended to add several unrelated items, including a requirement that porn websites set up age verification to try to keep minors from viewing the content. In addition accreditation requirements were changed for universities and community colleges.

Cooper praised the computer science and online age verification requirements. But he urged state lawmakers to reconsider the new higher education accreditation requirements.

“The changes to the university and community college accreditation process are onerous and will add an unnecessary burden and increase costs for our public higher education institutions,” Cooper said in a news release.

This story was originally published October 2, 2023, 3:40 PM.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.