A Crash Course in Illinois’ New Education Laws

Pop quiz: Which state was first to pass a law requiring Asian American Pacific Islander history be taught in school?

Answer: Illinois.

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The law (HB376) is among those taking effect in the new year.

K-12 schools have until the 2022-23 school year to begin teaching a unit of Asian American history, but Grace Chan McKibben, director of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, said the work now is to help districts with implementation.

“It does mean that Asian American history, which is often invisible – there has been Asian Americans in this country since the mid-1800s, but it hasn’t been taught in the schools – and this will allow all the challenges as well as all the successes to be part of American history that’s taught to schools,” Chan McKibben said.

A separate new law (SB564) requires that schools include “the contributions made to society by Americans of different faith practices, including, but not limited to” Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Americans.”

Meanwhile, schools may need to quickly update their dress codes.

Another law (SB817)  taking effect bans schools from discriminating against natural and ethnic hairstyles, like locs, twists and afros.

It’s named the Jett Hawkins Act, after a four-year-old whose school didn’t let him wear braids.

“The real culprit here are the instances where Black youth have been expelled from school, suspended off sports teams and things like that,” Sen. Mike Simmons, D-Chicago, the measure’s sponsor. “I’m hoping that schools will take it as a gesture to be more open-minded around all hair styles. It’s a form of expression. And study after study has told us that discriminating against hairstyles for young people has a negative effect on their mental health. Given everything that our young people are going through this pandemic, we need to be doing everything we can to help them heal and to learn.”

Students experiencing mental or behavioral health issues will now be permitted five excused absences from school.

Illinois law now includes “mental health” as a valid reason for missing class.

After two mental health days, the student may be referred to school support personnel, like a counselor.

Graduating Illinois high school seniors will no longer need to sweat the SATs or ACTs in order to get into one of the state’s public universities.

Students can submit their scores, but they won’t have to.

Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Illinois, said House Bill 226 is a way to give Illinois residents an advantage in the admissions process. When students leave home for an out of state school, they often don’t return.

“You look at enrollment at places like the public universities in Arizona, you’ll see a bumper crop of Illinois residents. This addresses that and gives Illinois residents a leg up,” Buckner said. “We want more students to stay …  in Illinois for college, to contribute to our state, to contribute to our economy; to raise families and to start businesses here.”

He also said the change can help to close achievement gaps given that standardized tests don’t necessarily capture a student’s full potential.

“These test scores can often act as a barrier to post-secondary education. And furthermore, far too often when we see those folks who do well on … standardized tests compared to those who don’t, we know that they come from a certain socioeconomic background in many cases,” Buckner said. “And far too often the wage gap with families turns into the achievement gap which turns into the quality of life gap, into the life expectancy gap.”

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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