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BY: SUSAN TEBBEN and Ohio Capital Journal

A new bill specifying “blended learning” for the 2021-2022 school year has been approved by an Ohio Senate committee.

Senate Bill 229 is yet another bill meant to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student success and education, and was favorably passed in Senate Primary & Secondary Education Committee on Tuesday.

In the bill, school districts, including traditional public schools, STEM schools and community and charter schools, would have to have approval by the Ohio Department of Education to implement or discontinue a “blended learning model” by April 20, 2022. This is an extension of current law, which required the approval through July 1 of this year.

The blended learning model requires a school district to provide internet access and devices to each student using the model, and monitor and assess student achievement and progress while also communicating with parents or guardians about the progress.

A report must be submitted to the ODE by March 15 showing each school district’s total number of students in blended learning in 2021-22.

The bill also resets a measure passed through the budget bill, House Bill 110, which discounted standardized testing because of the pandemic’s disruption to education. Under current law, e-schools are required to disenroll a student who fails to take a state assessment for two consecutive years.

Under H.B. 110, that standardized testing rule was set aside and under the new bill, the exception would be extended through the 2022-2023 school year. This applies to any school who has an online school component.

Sen. Theresa Fedor, D-Toledo, accused legislators of creating the standardized testing amendment for e-schools as “problematic double-standard e-school favoritism.”

“If we’re going to provide flexibility and exemptions from standardized testing, it must be for all students no matter where they attend school,” Fedor said.

She brought up the latest court ruling requiring the defunct Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) to pay back $60 million in state funding it received after an investigation showed student engagement amounted to about an hour a day.

Fedor was the leader of a bill that attempted to change education laws in response to the pandemic, but her bill didn’t make it past the Ohio Senate.

She also attempted to add a provision to the blended learning bill on Tuesday that would allow public bodies, including school boards, to meet virtually if they chose to, but that measure was quickly tabled by the committee.

“I think people should be meeting in person,” state Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, the committee’s chair said. “I think that is pretty much what we’ve had conversations internally about, so I think we should leave it as it is.”

The amendment was tabled along party lines, but the bill itself was passed unanimously.

The bill now moves on for House consideration.

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.
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