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BLOOMINGTON — Illinois students returned to school last week where several fresh state requirements have gone into effect for the new year, impacting students from preschoolers to teenage mothers.

Feminine hygiene products

On the junior high and high school level, buildings are required to provide free feminine hygiene products in girls’ bathrooms.

At McLean County Unit 5 and Bloomington District 87, products were already provided in nurses’ offices, but the Learn With Dignity Act protects the privacy of adolescent girls.

“We have the items set up on the counter in every female bathroom in junior high and high schools and it is replenished regularly by custodians,” said Joe Adelman, director of operations and maintenance for Unit 5.

Adelman said the district "will take it a step further" by installing about 48 machines in girls' bathrooms by February, where feminine hygiene products will be provided at no cost. Each machine will cost "a couple hundred dollars," said Adelman, but he couldn't estimate a maintenance cost.  

“I can’t see it making a huge impact on the budget. It’s a minimal thing and it’s the right thing to do for the health of our students,” he said.

Barry Reilly, superintendent at District 87, said free feminine hygiene products are provided in the necessary bathrooms, but machines will not be installed. Inventory will be checked daily.

Reilly couldn’t estimate a cost impact but said “there’s no doubt it will increase” bathroom supply costs.

“We have a fairly high low-poverty level in our district. Good health for students is just as important as doing their homework. If they don’t have necessary health items, it could lead to a lack of achievement in schools,” said Reilly.

Breastfeeding accommodations

Officials at Unit 5 and District 87 high schools said office spaces have been modified to accommodate for breastfeeding mothers.

“You want it to be a very discreet climate to be sensitive to the needs of the individual, especially when we’re talking about kids who are still in school where it might be a sensitive issue,” said Reilly.

The spaces must provide privacy, an electrical outlet for pumping equipment and a nearby cooler for milk storage. Schools must also allow breastfeeding student mothers to make up assignments.

“If a student is trying to balance (breastfeeding) in addition to schoolwork, we want to be as accommodating as possible so they’re still able to receive a great education in addition to being a nursing mother,” said Trevor Chapman, principal at Normal Community High School.

Cursive writing

At the elementary level, a new cursive writing mandate will go into effect for the 2018-19 school year, requiring one unit of cursive writing at elementary schools.

Several Twin City teachers already include cursive writing instruction in their curriculum, including Kristen Foley, third-grade teacher at Oakland Elementary School in Bloomington.

“Cursive writing stimulates a side of the brain that writing in print does not. It also helps develop fine motor skills,” said Foley.

She said learning the basic skills of reading and writing in cursive will help students read historical documents, write personal notes and sign signatures.

Carmen Bergmann, director of elementary education at Unit 5, said the cursive writing requirement could add some stress to teachers who are already planning rigorous academic schedules, but districts should work with teachers to comfortably include the lesson.

Early education expulsions

Schools are also prohibited from expelling preschool students, requiring other means to correct the child's behavior.

No preschooler has ever been expelled from a Twin City school, according to Unit 5 and District 87 officials, and both provide interventions and counseling if a child exhibits challenging behavior.

Temporary removal is still allowed if the child creates concern for safety. 

Other 2018 laws that impact students

  • The age to register as an organ donor lowered to 16 years old. Teens can sign up when applying for a driver's license. 
  • Online or in-person intimidation or stalking could be considered a hate crime.
  • Juvenile criminal records will be expunged two years after a case is closed. Exclusions apply — such as homicides, felony sex offenses and other serious crimes. 

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Follow Julia Evelsizer on Twitter: @pg_evelsizer

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Public Safety Reporter

Public safety reporter for The Pantagraph.

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