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McKinley Architects & Engineers

The Thrasher Group

March 6, 2020 - Volume 40 Issue 9

By Jim Wallace

The next stop for a controversial bill to permit public schools to offer elective courses on the Bible is the governor’s desk.

The Senate voted 30 to three Wednesday to pass House Bill 4780 but only after several senators said it could cause legal problems and after the Senate on Tuesday rejected an amendment it had approved several days earlier.

At the beginning of the legislative session, House Bill 4780 had a twin in the form of Senate Bill 38, which would have done the same thing in permitting the teaching of electives based on Hebrew Scriptures and the Bible’s Old Testament and New Testament. But The Senate amended its bill to take out the references to Hebrew Scriptures and the Bible’s Old Testament and New Testament and replace them with “sacred texts or comparative religions.”

When Senate Bill 38 went to the House, it received no attention. But when House Bill 4780 reached the Senate, it went right through the Senate Education Committee to the Senate floor.

“You can’t promote one religion and promote religious literacy.” – Sen. Stephen Baldwin

On Tuesday, Sen. Stephen Baldwin, R-Greenbrier, offered the same amendment he successfully had attached to Senate Bill 38. “You can’t promote one religion and promote religious literacy,” he said. “I do quite a bit of work in interreligious dialogue. It’s a difficult thing. It’s an important thing. You got to be careful. You cannot promote one religion and say you’re doing religious literacy or interreligious dialogue. It doesn’t work that way. If you’re promoting one religion, you’re doing so to the detriment of others. That’s not what our country was founded upon.”

Baldwin, who is a pastor, reminded his colleagues, “Six days ago, this body passed this exact language 34 to nothing.” But on Tuesday, his amendment was defeated on a vote of 15 to 19.

Story was the same the next day.

On Wednesday, when House Bill 4780 was up for a final Senate vote, Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, asked if the bill made any provisions for the Torah, the Koran or other sacred texts. Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said it didn’t, but the language was all permissive and didn’t exclude anything. But Woelfel, who is a lawyer, was not satisfied.

“I’ll bet you a holy rosary that this is going to be declared unconstitutional.” – Sen. Mike Woelfel

“You’ve got a bill that’s going to be declared unconstitutional,” he said. “I’ve argued more constitutional cases than anybody in this building, and I’m telling you right now by making it restrictive and denying the amendment that was offered yesterday by the senator from Greenbrier, I’ll bet you a holy rosary that this is going to be declared unconstitutional.”

Sen. Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, also complained that accepting House Bill 4780 without the amendment extinguished the “good work” senators had done on Senate Bill 38 in figuring out how to incorporate many faiths without hurting any single faith.

“I’m confident enough in my faith to have a discussion of that and allow the children of our public schools to have the same discussion when it comes to sacred texts and comparative religions,” he said. “That improves us and improves this body and improves the education of West Virginia students.”

Sen. Paul Hardesty, D-Logan, said he would vote for the bill reluctantly, but he told his fellow senators about how he, as a member of the Logan County school board, in 1999 got into legal trouble by deciding to put the Ten Commandments up in the county’s schools. After the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue, the school system instead created a collage of historical documents with the Ten Commandments in the middle that got around the legal challenge.

“I can tell you from firsthand knowledge of being made fun of some two decades ago, this will not hold muster,” Hardesty said about House Bill 4780. “They’ll come after you, and we’ll probably have to come back and revisit this.”

Further, he said, instructors need to be objective in what they teach and shy far away from doctrinal issues. “We need to do our doctrinal teachings on Sunday in our local houses of worship,” Hardesty said.

The Senate voted 30 to three to pass House Bill 4780 with three votes against it coming from Baldwin, Bill Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, and Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha.

The House passed the bill on a vote of 73 to 26 last week.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate sidetracked a divisive bill call the Student Religious Liberties Act this week. That doesn’t mean House Bill 4069 is dead, but the Senate Rules Committee would have to decide to put it back on the Senate’s active calendar today or Saturday for the bill to survive.

Critics have said the bill is too prescriptive in imposing requirements on county school districts in the name of protecting religious liberties, while some of its provisions already are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“I think this could be construed as telling the school administration of that particular school that you almost have to let me do things when I want to do it if they’re expressions of religion.” – Sen. Mike Romano

“I think this could be construed as telling the school administration of that particular school that you almost have to let me do things when I want to do it if they’re expressions of religion,” Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said in reaction to the bill in a meeting of the Senate Education Committee Tuesday.

Committee attorney Hank Hager responded, “I think that the idea is to ensure that religious activities are treated the same way as nonreligious activities.”

The bill reached the second of its three required readings in the Senate Wednesday when the Rules Committee pulled it off of the calendar, where it stayed on Thursday.

House Bill 4069 would require county school boards to substantially adopt a model policy with strict requirements on how and when students would be allowed to speak at graduation ceremonies and other events. The original wording of the bill was copied from a Mississippi law.

These are some of the requirements of the bill:

  • For speakers at non-graduation events, the district would designate events, announcements and greetings at which students could speak, as well as maximum time limits.
  • To be eligible to speak, students must be in the highest two grade levels of the school and be student class officers, captains of the football team or in other positions of honor, as designated by the school board.
  • Eligible students could submit their names into random drawings, and names would have to be listed in the order drawn. The district could repeat the selection process on a semester or yearly basis with at least three days’ notice of drawings.
  • Student comments must be related to the purpose of the events or announcements and must not include obscene, vulgar, offensively lewd or indecent speech.
  • School authorities would have to issue written or oral disclaimers of students’ speech.
  • For graduation ceremonies, districts would create opportunities for students to speak at the beginning and end and set maximum time limits.
  • Only student council officers, officers of the graduating class or the top three ranked academic graduates would be eligible to speak.
  • A student who would be otherwise eligible to speak would be ineligible to give opening or closing remarks.
  • The names of students who volunteer would be drawn randomly. The student whose name is drawn first would do the opening remarks. The student whose name is drawn second would do the closing remarks.
  • Those remarks must be related to the purpose of the graduation ceremony. Other students of honor, such as valedictorians, also could speak during graduation ceremonies. A subject must be designated for each speaker.
  • Speakers must stay on their topics and not be discriminated against for expression of religious viewpoints.
  • Written disclaimers would have to be printed in graduation ceremony programs.

Several delegates denounced House Bill 4069 before the House voted 76 to 22 to approve it on February 11 with Democrats and Republicans split on both sides of the bill.

By Jim Wallace

A bill to allow homeschooled students to play in public school sports has gone to Gov. Jim Justice to decide whether to sign it into law.

The Senate voted 32 to one on Monday to pass House Bill 3127. Earlier in the legislative session, the Senate had passed its own bill, Senate Bill 131. In addition to letting homeschooled students into public school sports, it also would have allowed allow students attending private and religious schools that are not members of the Secondary School Activities Commission to participate in public school sports. But the House of Delegates did not give any attention to that bill.

The one vote against House Bill 3127 in the Senate came from Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke.

As Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, told her colleagues, the bill would allow homeschooled students to participate in extracurricular activities at the public schools serving their attendance zone under the following conditions:

  • Satisfactory evidence of academic progress for one year in compliance with homeschool instruction statutory provisions;
  • Enrollment in at least one virtual instructional course per semester consistent with county board policy and the state board;
  • The student has not reached age 19 by August 1 of the school year;
  • The student is an amateur who receives no compensation;
  • Agreement to comply with all disciplinary rules of the SSAC and the county board; and
  • Agreement to obey all rules of the SSAC.

If a homeschooled student would leave a member school during the school year, the student would have to follow the same transfer protocols that apply to member school transfers, Rucker said.

The House approved the bill February 24 on a vote of 61 to 38 with Republicans and Democrats split on both sides.

Such bills have traditionally been called Tim Tebow bills after a former homeschooled student who went on to success at the University of Florida.

By Jim Wallace

House Bill 4691, which is meant to help school districts hire teachers in areas of critical need, passed in the Senate on Wednesday and is ready for the governor.

“This bill extends the expiration date for provisions authorizing the employment of retired teachers in critical need areas beyond the 140-day post-retirement limit from June 30, 2020, to June 30, 2025,” Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, told her colleagues.

The bill also would rewrite a section of state law about the hiring of new teachers. “The intent is to enable school systems to recruit and employ prospective teachers and other professional personnel during prime recruiting season for new graduates in positions in which the county has a critical need,” Rucker said.

In other words, the bill would allow districts to attract prospective teachers in high-demand subjects, such as science and mathematics, before they are lured away by schools in other states with more lenient hiring provisions in their laws. Some schools in other states have offered positions to students in West Virginia’s teachers colleges several months before July, when West Virginia school districts traditionally have been allowed to post openings. If the bill would become law, districts would be able to offer prospective teachers provisional contracts pending their graduation and certification.

The Senate passed the bill on a vote of 34 to zero. The House approved House Bill 4691 on a vote of 97 to zero on February 10.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate is asking the House of Delegates to accept changes the Senate made in a House bill on teacher discipline.

House Bill 4378 would authorize the state school superintendent to discipline or revoke the teaching certificate of any teacher found to have committed sexual misconduct involving a student, minor or individual who was a student in the preceding 24 months. The bill also would authorize the state superintendent to issue subpoenas to obtain testimony and documents to aid in the investigation of any allegations against any persons subject to licensure by the state superintendent. In addition, it would require teachers and any person issued a license by the state superintendent to maintain a professional relationship with all students at all times both in and out of the classroom. The bill lists offenses that could result in the revocation of a teacher’s license for at least five years.

The Senate made some minor changes in the wording of the bill, so the House must decide whether to go along with the changes.

The Senate voted 33 to zero Thursday to approve House Bill 4378 in its amended form. The bill passed one month earlier in the House on a vote of 98 to zero.

By Jim Wallace

The fate of a bill to allow alternative educational opportunities to count as elective courses in high schools is back in the hands of the Senate after the House of Delegates approved it Wednesday on a vote of 88 to zero. The Senate must decide whether to accept changes the House made in the bill.

Senate Bill 750 would require each county school board to adopt a policy on alternative education opportunities, which would be outside of the traditional classroom and be eligible for credit as elective courses. A school board would be able to approve or reject every application for such extended learning opportunities, but any denial would have to be accompanied by the reasons for rejection. A board also would be allowed to monitor the activities and disqualify any that doesn’t meet muster.

When the bill was before the House Education Committee last Saturday, members were told the opportunities that might qualify for elective credits could include after-school theater programs, Boys & Girls Programs, science clubs or 4-H programs.

The Senate passed the bill on a vote of 34 to zero last week.

By Jim Wallace

A bill that the House of Delegates approved on a vote of 100 to zero could be in trouble in the Senate. On Wednesday, Senate leaders took House Bill 4497 off the Senate calendar and did not put it back on by the end of the day Thursday.

House Bill 4497 would provide for an automated external defibrillator and posted emergency plan to be available at all extramural secondary school athletic events, including practices. The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission would be expected to require the defibrillators to be present at all high school or middle school athletic events, including at golf courses and courses for cross-country runs when events are held in those locations. All school sports personnel would have to be trained in the use of defibrillators.

The bill got through the Senate Education Committee Tuesday with just a minor change in wording, although it wasn’t clear how many of the devices would be needed.

“We do not have any definitive information on how many schools have AEDs,” Sarah Stewart, an attorney for the Education Department, told the committee. “I’m not sure how useful just doing a survey would be either because I think the number of AEDs needed by each school is going to depend on the configuration of the school, where their athletic games are played, how many athletic teams they have. So we’re trying to get a handle on how many more are needed.”

The bill would leave it up to each school district to pay for the devices, she said. A fiscal note from the Education department estimates to total cost of all the defibrillators that might be needed could be $216,000 at a cost of $725 each.

House Bill 4497 is named after Alex Miller, a Roane County High School football player who died after collapsing at a game last fall in Clay County.

The Senate Rules Committee could decide today or Saturday to put the bill back on the active calendar for passage before the end of the legislative session Saturday evening.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate this week removed from active consideration a bill to create four new service personnel aide positions to work with students who have identified behavioral difficulties.

House Bill 4535 was on track to pass in the Senate as early as Thursday, but Senate leaders pulled it off track on Wednesday after the Senate Education Committee had approved it on Tuesday. Just one week earlier, the House of Delegates voted 94 to zero to approve the bill.

These are the positions the bill would create:

  • “Aide V (Special Education Classroom Assistant Teacher) - Temporary Authorization” means a person who does not possess minimum requirements for the permanent authorization requirements, but is enrolled in and pursuing requirements as prescribed by the state board of education. No service person shall be entitled to receive the paygrade associated with this classification unless he or she has applied for and been selected to fill a posted position which specifically requires the successful candidate to hold or be enrolled in and pursuing the requirements for the classification. The determination as to whether a position will be posted requiring this classification is solely at the discretion of the county;
  • “Aide V (Special Education Classroom Assistant Teacher) - Permanent Authorization” means a service person who holds at least the “Aide I” classification and who holds a high school diploma or a general educational development certificate and who has completed the requirements and experience to be prescribed by the state board of education. These classes are designed to improve skills and competency’s related to the provision of services to special needs students. No service person shall be entitled to receive the paygrade associated with this classification unless he or she has applied for and been selected to fill a posted position which specifically requires the successful candidate to hold or be enrolled in and pursuing the requirements for the classification. The determination as to whether a position will be posted requiring this classification is solely at the discretion of the county;
  • “Aide VI (Student Behavioral Support Specialist) - Temporary Authorization” means a person who does not possess minimum requirements for the permanent authorization requirements, but is enrolled in and pursuing the requirements as prescribed by the state board of education. No service person shall be entitled to receive the paygrade associated with this classification unless he or she has applied for and been selected to fill a posted position which specifically requires the successful candidate to hold or be enrolled in and pursuing the requirements for the classification. The determination as to whether a position will be posted requiring this classification is solely at the discretion of the county; and
  • “Aide VI (Student Behavioral Support Specialist) - Permanent Authorization” means a person who works with a student or students who have identified behavior difficulties and has completed the requirements and experience to be prescribed by the state board of education. No service person shall be entitled to receive the paygrade associated with this classification unless he or she has applied for and been selected to fill a posted position which specifically requires the successful candidate to hold or be enrolled in and pursuing the requirements for the classification. The determination as to whether a position will be posted requiring this classification is solely at the discretion of the county.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates has approved Senate Bill 614 to help fund video cameras for certain special education classrooms. Now it’s up to the Senate to decide whether to accept changes made by the House.

Senate Bill 614 is a follow-up to legislation passed last year to require the cameras in all self-contained special education classrooms. Last year’s bill was a response to an incident that occurred in a Berkeley County classroom. It allocated money evenly among schools without regard to how many classrooms they had that needed the cameras. This year’s bill would change the method of funding the cameras.

The bill provides a way for the Department of Education to allocate additional funding from the Safe Schools Fund for schools that still need the cameras.

“After all the classrooms have the required cameras, then the distribution will return to the current method of distribution,” House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said just before the House voted 96 to zero Wednesday to approve the bill.

The Senate passed the bill on a vote of 33 to zero last week.

By Jim Wallace

Both houses of the legislature have agreed on a bill to help children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, so now it is up to Gov. Jim Justice to decide whether to make House Bill 4414 law. The bill would have the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Resources form an advisory committee on the selection of language developmental milestones for children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Those milestones are to be equivalent to those for children with normal hearing.

The bill faced no opposition in the legislature. The House of Delegates approved it on a vote of 98 to zero on February 5, the Senate approved it on a vote of 34 to zero on Wednesday, and then the House voted 100 to zero to accept Senate changes in the bill on Thursday.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates has approved a bill to create a state advisory council to help ensure that West Virginia has more citizens with college degrees or other post-high school credentials within the next decade. But the House changed Senate Bill 839, so the Senate will have to decide whether to accept the changes.

“What the committee amendment does is adds additional council members,” House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, told his colleagues. “The first one is representatives of at least two employers’ industry associations of chambers of commerce. Then the second part is representatives from at least two regional economic development and workforce investment boards. And it also broadens language to make it clear that the council extends to secondary education.”

Senate Bill 839 would create the State Advisory Council on Postsecondary Attainment Goals. The council, which would include the state superintendent of schools or a representative of the superintendent, would have to collaborate with the Higher Education Policy Commission and the Council for Community and Technical College Education to identify high-value and in-demand postsecondary credentials. It also would have to develop a plan to assist the state in achieving its postsecondary attainment goal of having 60 percent of West Virginians between the ages of 25 and 64 hold a degree, certificate, or other postsecondary workforce credential of value in the workplace by 2030.

The House voted 97 to zero Thursday to pass the bill. The Senate passed its version of the bill on a vote of 33 to zero last week.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate this week went along with the House of Delegates in passing House Bill 4165, which would establish the West Virginia Remembers Program. The bill would authorize the state school board to promulgate a rule providing for maintaining of lists by county school boards of veterans who would volunteer to speak in public schools about their military experiences.

The Senate voted 32 to zero to approve the bill on Thursday. In the House, it passed on a vote of 94 to three.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates approved a Senate-passed bill this week after struggling over issues related to the separation of church and state. Senate Bill 42 would allow county school boards to include faith-based options in their drug awareness and prevention programs. It also would require the state school board to promulgate a rule on how the faith-based option could be offered in a way that would meet the requirements of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The House voted 83 to 15 Thursday to pass the bill, but it must return to the Senate to decide whether to accept a change the House made in the bill.

When the House Education Committee considered Senate Bill 42 on Monday, Sarah Stewart, an attorney for the Department of Education, said the state already has standards on drug prevention. “They’re age-appropriate,” she said. “They start very young. Perhaps it’s a Mr. Yuck sticker in our lower grades and it progresses. A piece of legislation passed maybe two or three years ago that required drug programs to be adopted on the county level. We provide resources from our office to assist with that, but ultimately, that is a county-level decision on how that is implemented.”

Stewart said any drug prevention program adopted by a county school board must be mindful of First Amendment protections, especially the clause prohibiting the government from establishing a religion.

“We can’t promote religion; we can’t inhibit religion. So in offering these courses, it will be maybe a little more difficult than secular-based courses, but the county will have to work to find a way that they could offer these courses in a way that does not violate the Establishment Clause.” – Sarah Stewart

“We can’t promote religion; we can’t inhibit religion,” she said. “So in offering these courses, it will be maybe a little more difficult than secular-based courses, but the county will have to work to find a way that they could offer these courses in a way that does not violate the Establishment Clause.”

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, told the committee he was aware of one program in Mercer County called Teen Challenge that has been successful for years, but the director would like to be able to work with students, particularly in after-school programs.

“I personally have been supportive of it for the last several years. I’ve seen it do great things with some really problem kids.” – Dale Lee

“I personally have been supportive of it for the last several years,” Lee said. “I’ve seen it do great things with some really problem kids.”

Eli Baumwell, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, said he saw two potential legal issues with allowing faith-based programs into the public schools. One is whether school credit could be given for something faith-based. The other could occur if the schools would decide which faiths could be represented.

“For example, we know that, in other states, Satanists like to come up and sort of cause problems with laws like this.” Baumwell said. “If a county board would choose Teen Challenge over a Satanist group, it could face legal problems.”

Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, asked if it would be a problem if leaders of a faith-based drug prevention program would suggest gay conversion therapy to a student. “If something like that were to happen, that would be a clear violation of a number of state and federal rules,” Baumwell said.

Before the House Education Committee approved the bill, members accepted an amendment from the committee’s chairman, Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, to say the drug prevention programs in schools could be either faith-based or non-faith-based. But that didn’t appease all the bill’s critics.

“While I think that the intentions of drug prevention are very good and they come from a good place, this piece of legislation needs a lot to be desired,” Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, said, adding that no other state has taken such action. “That’s probably because there are serious constitutional issues.”

Another opponent of the bill, Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said, “I see a much brighter line between church and state than a lot of folks here.”

Debate renewed on the House floor.

When he explained the bill on the House floor Thursday, Ellington said state law already requires the state school board to offer programs within the existing health and physical education program to teach resistance and life skills to counteract societal and peer pressure in the use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco. The purpose of the drug awareness prevention program is to keep students from illegally using the substances and reduce their risk factors, he said. Senate Bill 42 would simply allow county school boards to include faith-based and non-faith-based options to be included in the drug prevention awareness programs, he said.

“It requires though that the state board would promulgate a rule on how the faith-based electives can be offered in a way that is consistent with constitutional requirements,” Ellington said. “They could present maybe information on maybe success in programs that they have in their community or what may be offered in their community that would be optional for people to go to later on.”

The bill uses the term electives. Ellington said that doesn’t mean credit-bearing courses, but it could include lectures or other presentations in school or outside of school that could contribute toward students’ coursework in physical education and health education. But several delegates still were troubled by the bill.

“I think it’s a good idea to provide prevention in schools across the board,” Delegate Andrew Robinson, D-Kanawha, said. “My concern is a school may provide prevention, which would only be faith-based, and it would alleviate some of the potential for children or students to get involved in those.”

Thompson again said he had serious concerns about the bill. “LGBTQ students are oftentimes conflicted in everything going on in their lives and the changes in their bodies and the different feelings they’re having, and sadly, we have a higher rate of drug and alcohol abuse,” he said. “So I definitely agree we have a major problem with drug and alcohol abuse in our schools, and we should be doing something about it. However, I have some serious concerns that with this legislation we’re opening a backdoor to conversion therapy. Many states are now banning conversion therapy. We’ve attempted, but we haven’t made it there yet, so I have some very serious concerns with that.”

However, Ellington said, “This bill has nothing to do with conversion therapy. Putting the thought in there that this is a backdoor to it is not appropriate in my mind.”

But Thompson said he also was concerned about the effects on students who aren’t religious or belong to a religion that is different from the majority of students at a school if the school would offer only a faith-based program. In addition, he expressed concern that the bill could lead to litigation.

“Guys, we’re heading down a slippery slope. We keep pushing religion into our government. We’re going to end up with government in our churches. We don’t want that. If we keep pushing religion into our government, government’s going to be in our churches. We’re blurring that line.” – Delegate Cody Thompson

“Would this be unconstitutional?” Thompson asked. “I swore to uphold the Constitution. Guys, we’re heading down a slippery slope. We keep pushing religion into our government. We’re going to end up with government in our churches. We don’t want that. If we keep pushing religion into our government, government’s going to be in our churches. We’re blurring that line.”

On the other side, however, Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, said he fully supported the bill. “We’re all Americans,” he said. “We have our school students, whether they’re of faith or not or somewhere in between. We’re all in this together. The drug problem is very real regardless of who the students are. Regardless of where they come from, the drug problem is very real. This is an effort to try to minimize the drug problem we have in this country and in our state.”

Fast said the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety has a good drug prevention program he would like to see get into more public schools, but he also would like to see some good faith-based programs get into the schools.

“We’re all in it together,” Fast said. “Some school systems, however, shy away from these types of programs, and that’s why this needs to be codified so that it gives the green light for our school systems to have faith-based and non-faith-based drug prevention programs in our school systems. That’s where the rubber meets the road folks.”

But Delegate Mike Pushkin said, “I would like for children of all faiths to be able to take whichever elective they want and feel welcome there.” Then he noted that Fast and other delegates who have backed religiously oriented bills were absent earlier in the day when the House began its floor session with an interfaith prayer from three religious leaders, including a Christian, a Jew and a Muslim.

“Because of that lack of respect that I see for religious minorities here, I don’t trust the government to do this,” Pushkin, who is Jewish, said.

“It’s not promoting a particular faith or religion over one or another.” – Delegate Joe Ellington

When Ellington closed debate on Senate Bill 42, he said, “It’s not promoting a particular faith or religion over one or another.”

The House then sent the bill back to the Senate, which had voted 34 to zero to approve it.

 

By Jim Wallace

A bill to require the teaching of certain historical documents in public, private and parochial schools in West Virginia has had an off-and-on course through the Senate this week.

House Bill 4398 was set for a vote in the Senate on Tuesday, when Senate leaders pulled it off of the active agenda. On Thursday, they put it back onto the active agenda but delayed a vote until today.

Critics of the bill have called it an example of unnecessary micromanagement.

The bill would require instruction on the original texts of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States and its amendments, the Bill of Rights, the Federalist Papers, the Constitution of West Virginia, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Mayflower Compact. It also has a provision about getting parental approval before teaching students about sexually transmitted diseases.

The House approved the bill on a vote of 92 to three on February 13.

By Jim Wallace

The full legislature has approved House Bill 4925, which would require the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission to recognize preparatory athletic programs, whose members attend a secondary school in West Virginia for academic instruction, solely for the purpose of allowing those programs to compete on a national level.

The prime example of that is Huntington Prep, whose students take classes at St. Joseph Central Catholic High School while learning to play competitive basketball on a national level.

Senate Tuesday

“Essentially, we are asking the WVSSAC to recognize some schools that are nonmembers, so that they can compete at the national level,” Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said in explaining the bill before the Senate voted.

The two senators who represent Huntington welcomed the bill.

“It’s another way for our state to be out there in the world on the national stage projecting a very positive image.” – Sen. Mike Woelfel

Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, said Huntington Prep’s coach, Arkell Bruce, has been nominated by USA Today as one of the top five high school coaches in America, so his teams should be able to compete nationally. “It’s another way for our state to be out there in the world on the national stage projecting a very positive image,” he said.

Likewise, Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said he’s been working on getting Huntington Prep recognized by the SSAC for several years.

“It’s a great school,” he said. “It’s a great academic tradition.”

Under House Bill 4925, a program would have to pay the same fees as any member school, but such recognition would not entitle the program to compete against a member school during the regular season or in any SSAC state championship event.

The Senate voted 34 to zero to approve the bill. It had passed in the House by a vote of 97 to zero. The House later accepted changes made in the bill by the Senate.

By Jim Wallace

A bill designed to help public schools retain more of their young teachers got sidetracked for a day in the Senate before getting back on track for possible passage today.

House Bill 4804 on teacher induction was removed from the Senate calendar Wednesday, when it was due to receive the second of its three required readings. But Senate leaders put it back on the calendar Thursday, setting it up for a vote today. The House of Delegates approved the bill last week on a vote of 96 to zero.

The bill is designed to promote the use of effective teaching strategies and the nurturing of young teachers. It includes a funding mechanism in which the Department of Education will retain $100,000 of School Aid Formula funds in each of the first five years. That’s to be used to help county school systems design and implement teacher leader frameworks.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates has approved a Senate bill aimed at improving discipline in public schools, but only after changing it. Now Senate Bill 723 returns to the Senate for consideration of the changes.

“The bill calls for a statewide analysis of school disciplinary data and the establishment by the state superintendent of a program to address the number of disciplinary actions,” House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said on the House floor. “What the committee amendment does is it adds provisions that require the program to include information by subgroups, including but not limited to race, gender and disability. For county board implementation, with the ultimate goal of improving disciplinary outcomes, and also for the Department of Education’s summary report on the progress of the program to also include individual county programs summary.”

The House approved the bill Wednesday on a vote of 85 to seven. The Senate voted 33 to zero to approve the bill last week.

By Jim Wallace

House Bill 4790 on career technical education for middle school students has completed legislative action and is ready to go to the governor.

The bill would modify the current programs in workforce preparedness by broadening the information to be communicated to all students to include the knowledge, college and career skills and life characteristics that are needed for success in occupations and entrepreneurship in the changing world of work.

At the middle school level, the program could be integrated with comprehensive career explorations. Beginning with the school year 2022-2023, county boards of education would have to provide elective CTE courses for middle school students that could include foundational CTE courses, CTE courses developed with a high school on high-need occupational areas within their region, as well as courses on agriculture, industrial arts and family and consumer sciences.

“Current code requires the state board to adopt by rule a program of instruction in general workforce preparedness,” Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said on the Senate floor. “This bill broadens information to be communicated to students under the program to include the knowledge, college and career skills and life characteristics needed for success in occupations and entrepreneurship and allows at the middle school level the program to be integrated with comprehensive career exploration. The bill also requires that the county boards provide elective career technical education courses for middle school students that may include foundational career technical education courses, career technical education courses developed with a focus on high-need occupational areas within the area or region applicable to industrial arts and family and consumer sciences.”

“I didn’t want to read Moby Dick and Old Man and the Sea. I wanted to read how to do something – how to build something, how to dissemble something, how to make a difference in the world that I knew in my mind that I lived in.” – Sen. Craig Blair

Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, endorsed the bill. “We need to get students like myself earlier into the career technical education field,” he said. “There’s a direct correlation with absentee[ism], tobacco, alcohol, drugs and all the other stuff that goes along with boredom in the classroom. I remember it, and I’ve used this phrase over and over: I didn’t want to read Moby Dick and Old Man and the Sea. I wanted to read how to do something – how to build something, how to dissemble something, how to make a difference in the world that I knew in my mind that I lived in. I think House Bill 4790 will go another step in that direction.”

The Senate voted 34 to zero to approve the bill Tuesday. The House voted 94 to one to approve the bill on February 13.

 

By Jim Wallace

A bill to establish a behavior interventionist pilot program is close to going to the governor, although the House of Delegates and the Senate still have differences to work out.

As Senate Bill 842 started out, it was to establish the pilot program in two county school districts for five years. The idea was that behavior interventionists would address behavior issues with the goal of reducing disciplinary actions and increasing achievement among students. But the House of Delegates changed it a bit this week.

“What the amendment does is it requires that not less than two nor more than 10 pilot counties, instead of just two, to be designated, and it also reduces the length of the pilot to three years instead of the five that the bill was saying,” House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said Wednesday on the House floor.

The House also made a change in the pay grade for the interventionist before voting 93 to one to pass the bill. But when the bill returned to the Senate, senators decided not to accept all the change the House made regarding the interventionists’ pay, so if the House doesn’t agree to what the Senate wants, the bill will have to go to a conference committee to work out differences.

The only vote against Senate Bill 842 came from Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason. When the bill was still before the House Education Committee on Monday, he complained that it would impose an unfunded mandate on some schools.

“We say we need to reduce the size of the state board, but every time we come in here, it’s seems like we’re giving them something else to do.” – Delegate Jim Butler

“We all know the state and the people of the state have limited resources,” he said. “I would say it’s another burden on the state board, and oftentimes, we say we need to reduce the size of the state board, but every time we come in here, it’s seems like we’re giving them something else to do. This requires a report back, and I think that the results of the report back are pretty predictable. We’ve already increased it before it even got out of the committee.”

Butler added that every kid should have a behavioral specialist, and that should be a parent.

The proposal for the bill came from the Kanawha County schools, which would like to get one of the pilot programs. In February, Cathi Bradley, principal of Kanawha City Elementary School, told the Senate Education Committee that an interventionist could help students who have behavior issues because they have experienced trauma.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates has approved a Senate bill on suicide prevention in the schools, but the Senate will have to take another look at it. Senate Bill 230 basically would restore a law passed in 2015 that the legislature inadvertently wiped out a couple of years ago when it passed a bill to eliminate the Department of Education and the Arts.

“In 2017, there were 6,241 young people who committed suicide in the United States,” House Education Vice Chairman Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam, said in urging passage of the bill Thursday. “Suicide is the leading cause of death among young people in America. In the 1990s, Jamie Campbell was an 18-year-old from Ritchie County, West Virginia, who sadly left this earth far too soon. In response, the West Virginia Legislature passed Jamie’s Law, which requires that middle school and high school students be educated and informed on suicide prevention.”

“This bill includes new provisions for the routine education of all professional educators, including principals and administrators, and the service personnel having direct contact with students.” – Delegate Joshua Higginbotham

But Higginbotham said Senate Bill 230 would go beyond what the old law did. “This bill includes new provisions for the routine education of all professional educators, including principals and administrators, and the service personnel having direct contact with students,” he said. “It educates all these employees on the warning signs and resources to assist in suicide prevention. The provisions for providing information to students are retained, along with opportunities to discuss suicide prevention.”

The House voted 98 to zero to pass the bill. It previously passed in the Senate on a vote of 33 to zero. The bill must go back to the Senate for approval of a minor amendment. That change would restore the name Jamie’s Law, which was left out of the original version of the bill.

By Jim Wallace

A bill called the Students’ Right to Know Act was close to completing its legislative journey by late Thursday. It passed in the Senate on January 27 on a vote of 32 to zero and then in the House of Delegates Thursday on a vote of 96 to zero.

Senate Bill 303 would require the state school board to collaborate with the Higher Education Policy Commission and the Council on Community and Technical College Education to put together information for students on how they can plan for college or careers after high school.

“The state superintendent is responsible for distributing this information by October 15 of each year to guidance counselors in the schools, so it may be provided to the students,” House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said before the House vote. “The information is also to be distributed to the public by making it readily available on the [Education] Department’s website. In addition, the state board is authorized to execute a memo of understanding with any department, agency or division for acquiring the information that is required to be collected. Any department, agency or division that possesses the required information must also provide it to the state board. All requirements are to be effective on January 1, 2021.”

The House made a couple of changes in the bill, so the Senate now must decide whether to accept those changes before the bill can go to the governor.

By Jim Wallace

House Bill 4546, which would remove from law a requirement for school superintendents to be screened every two years for tuberculosis, has completed the legislative process and is headed to the governor for a decision on whether to sign it.

“This bill removes the requirement that, after his or her initial test, a county superintendent have an approved tuberculin skin test once every two years or more frequently, if medically indicated.” – Sen. Patricia Rucker

“This bill removes the requirement that, after his or her initial test, a county superintendent have an approved tuberculin skin test once every two years or more frequently, if medically indicated,” Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, D-Jefferson, told her colleagues before the Senate voted on the bill Wednesday. “Instead, it allows the commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health to require selective testing of superintendents for tuberculosis when there is a reason to believe they may have been exposed or have signs or symptoms indicative of the disease. The bill also provides that the county superintendent should contact the local health department in instances where they have reason to suspect that there has been exposure or have symptoms.”

The Senate voted 34 to zero to pass the bill. The House of Delegates previously passed it on a vote of 97 to one.

House Bill 4546 does for superintendents what House Bill 2669 in 2005 that did for teachers and other school personnel.

By Jim Wallace

A bill to allow more teachers to work with alternative certification has cleared the legislature and gone to the governor.

The wording of Senate Bill 691 is confusing for someone outside the legislative process, but what the House Education Committee was told was that the bill would follow up on legislation from the past that allowed county school boards to hire teachers who have received alternative certification rather than having gone through the normal process of earning degrees from teachers’ colleges. Senate Bill 691 would allow the state school board to do the same to fill teaching positions at the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind and at correctional institutions.

The House of Delegates voted 98 to zero to approve the bill Thursday. The Senate passed it on a vote of 33 to zero on February 24.

 

 

Editor’s Note – Jim Wallace is a former government reporter for the Charleston Daily Mail, former news director of West Virginia Public Radio and former news director of WWVA/WOVK radio in Wheeling. He now works for TSG Consulting, a public relations and governmental affairs company with offices in Charleston and Beckley. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from The Ohio State University and a master’s degree in journalism from West Virginia University. Wallace is the author of the 2012 book,A History of the West Virginia Capitol: The House of State.