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Nebraska bill would allow children to repeat a grade in K-12 with parental permission

By: - February 6, 2024 1:58 pm

(Getty Images)

LINCOLN — In select circumstances, parents or guardians would have the final say in whether their children should be repeat a grade in K-12 schools under a new legislative proposal.

State Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln. Dec. 18, 2023. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Legislative Bill 1193, introduced by State Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, would allow parents to let their children repeat a grade for three reasons in K-4: academic needs, illness or excessive absenteeism, or 50% or more school missed. For students in grades 5-12, the reason would be limited to excessive absenteeism.

Academic needs would mean the child is at least one year below grade level in reading, English and language arts; illness would mean the child had a severe mental or physical illness resulting in hospitalization for two weeks or more during the school year.

Conrad, who crafted the bill with the nonprofit Education Rights Counsel, which serves under-resourced public preschool through high school students, said she tried to be measured and accommodate potential concerns while seeking to enhance parental rights and autonomy.

“In the rare instances where there are disagreements with a parent — and to be clear, most of the time there’s not,” Conrad said, “… the parent’s decision should really carry the day.”

‘Return a little control’

Elizabeth Eynon-Kokrda, general counsel for the Education Rights Counsel, said school districts currently contain “the entire body of rights here.”

Eynon-Kokrda offered two examples to show the importance of the issue. In one, a ninth grader survived human trafficking and missed her entire ninth grade year and half of her tenth grade school year before she was able to extricate herself from the circumstances.

Elizabeth Eynon-Kokrda of Education Rights Counsel. Sept. 8, 2023. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

However, when she and her guardians asked that the student restart ninth grade, to have a fuller high school experience, the school said no. 

“The (current) rule basically is, your age dictates where you go, specifically without regard to your circumstances,” Eynon-Kokrda testified. “There are big guardrails, and all LB 1193 does is seek to return a little control in limited circumstances.”

The older children get, the more social and emotional interactions are critical to their development compared to academic deficiency, Eynon-Kokrda explained.

“For older kids, they get more opportunity to catch up academically, whereas for younger kids, it’s so critical that they learn reading,” she told the Nebraska Examiner.

Older children may take repeating a grade more personally, too, such as thinking “I’m a failure.” Younger children may instead see it as “I’m learning how to read.”

‘Fundamental right’ for parents

State Sen. Fred Meyer of St. Paul, a former State Board of Education member, thanked Conrad and said a school district in central Nebraska has advanced every student in recent years.

“It has cost the district dearly in academic progress and teachers who did not want to be in that atmosphere,” Meyer said.

State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha asked whether athletics could complicate Conrad’s proposal, and Eynon-Kokrda said it would be great to prevent such abuse.

However, she noted that LB 1193 is a separate issue: supporting kids who “are so far behind and they’re denied something that even they want.”

“We hold parents accountable when kids fall behind, but we’re not giving them this opportunity,” Eynon-Kokrda continued. “We all know there’s no question that they (parents) have a fundamental right to shape the direction of their student’s education.”

No one testified in opposition. The committee took no immediate action.

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Zach Wendling
Zach Wendling

Zach rejoins the Nebraska Examiner after studying abroad in Antigua, Guatemala, following a yearlong Examiner internship. His coverage focus areas have included politics and government, health and well-being and higher education.

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