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February 14, 2020 - Volume 40 Issue 6

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By Jim Wallace

The Senate has received a House-passed bill that critics say is too prescriptive in imposing requirements on county school districts in the name of protecting religious liberties.

The House of Delegates passed House Bill 4069, called the Student Religious Liberties Act, on a vote of 76 to 22 on Tuesday.

Much of the bill reiterates provisions of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and guidelines issued January 16 by the U.S. Department of Education, but it also 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 wording of the bill was copied from a Mississippi law.

“This bill is going to dictate who can and cannot speak at high school graduations and other sporting events,” Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, said. “Is that correct? Am I correct in that assumption that now the legislature is going to be telling high schools who can and cannot speak at public events like graduations and football games and National Honor Society meetings?

House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, replied, “The bill gives a model for each of those events, but there is discretion to the county district, and they set the policy. It’s supposed to be neutral and fair and non-discriminatory. But they can set their own individual ones based on the model that is presented in here.”

“I have no problem with religious liberties and freedom,” Thompson, who is a teacher, responded. “I’m a major supporter of that. I think it’s very important. It’s so important it’s our First Amendment. We already have that, so I’m very supportive of that.”

However, he said, he couldn’t support the section that would mandate how student speakers would be chosen. Thompson said that would run counter to legislators’ declarations in recent years that they want to give more flexibility to school districts.

“The legislature does not need to be telling our county school systems who can speak at graduations, who cannot speak, for how long. I just worry that we’re going to get into this weird area where we’re not going to let students with disabilities or special needs speak.” – Delegate Cody Thompson

“We want to talk about local control and tell our counties we’re trying to get the legislature out of your hair and you guys can run your own schools,” he said. “The legislature does not need to be telling our county school systems who can speak at graduations, who cannot speak, for how long. I just worry that we’re going to get into this weird area where we’re not going to let students with disabilities or special needs speak.”

Thompson also objected to limiting speakers at certain events to leaders in the two upper grades of high school and student volunteers drawn in lotteries.

“Let the schools decide,” he said. “Let the administrators decide. We should stay out of it. We’re the legislature. We mess things up enough already. Let’s stay out of it. The last time I checked this was still wild, wonderful West Virginia, not communist China.”

Among some of the requirements of the proposed model policy in the bill are;

  • 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.

“Who is going to designate what is lewd or obscene? Every county is going to have their own policy.” – Delegate Sean Hornbuckle

Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, also opposed the bill for being too prescriptive. “Who is going to designate what is lewd or obscene?” he asked. “Every county is going to have their own policy.”

Some people could find it obscene or lewd to talk about the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community, he said. “I just think there’s too many things in here that could lead us down the wrong path,” Hornbuckle said.

Another opponent of the bill, Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, also found it too prescriptive, especially because the bill says its provisions would apply to all schools. “I think it’s difficult that we’re including grade schools in this,” he said. “This is the ultimate micromanaging of a school district. I mean we are taking away the basic standard of decision-making and policy-making that all schools ought to have. And we are imposing a requirement that every time there’s a school event, there has to be a selected honored student who’s drawn from a hat and scheduled for the entire semester to open that event. It’s an unworkable system.”

Furthermore, Rowe said, those provisions don’t really make sense and are not necessary to carry out the overall purpose of the bill.

“If we want to protect the religious rights of people, then we don’t put this forum requirement in it. It’s confusing. It’s unnecessary. It doesn’t protect any religious rights.” – Delegate Larry Rowe

“If we want to protect the religious rights of people, then we don’t put this forum requirement in it,” he said. “It’s confusing. It’s unnecessary. It doesn’t protect any religious rights. In fact, it says over and over that the student – and I’ll quote Line 101 – must stay on subject. Well, where religious expression comes into staying on subject, I’m not sure.”

Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, also opposed the bill for having very serious constitutional issues that have not been resolved. The bill went through only the House Education Committee before reaching the House floor, even though some delegates argued it should have been examined by the House Judiciary Committee. The House rejected a motion from Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, that would have sent the bill to the Judiciary Committee.

Delegate Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette, asked Ellington if the bill would protect Muslims who might want to be excused from classes five times a day to pray, students who would want to wear burkas or religious head coverings or Wiccans who might want to follow religious practices in class. Ellington said such students would be protected. Staggers responded, “I can imagine some interesting high school classes and events.”

The House vote on House Bill 4069 came after the House adopted an amendment proposed by Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, that says students cannot use religious beliefs to avoid answering test questions or doing assignments based on what they are taught in class. The example used in the discussion was of a student who believes in creationism but is taught the theory of evolution in school.

Following the House’s 76-to-22 vote to approve the bill, the Senate sent it to its Education Committee. But unlike what happened in the House, the bill is scheduled to go to the Judiciary Committee after that.

In addition to the model policy, other requirements of the bill include:

  • A public school district would not be allowed to discriminate against students or parents on the basis of religious viewpoints or religious expression.
  • Students would be allowed to express their beliefs in homework, artwork or oral assignments free from discrimination.
  • Students could not be penalized or rewarded on the basis of the religious content of their work.
  • Students in public schools could pray or engage in religious activities or religious expression before, during and after the school day to the same extent they could engage in nonreligious activities or expression.

“The model policy does protect the student’s right to voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint. It protects the student’s right to include religious beliefs in homework, artwork and other written and oral assignments without being penalized or rewarded. It protects the student’s right to assemble for prayer groups, religious clubs or other gatherings. It ensures that students have equal rights to student facilities. It ensures that students have equal rights to advertise. It ensures that students have the right to wear religious clothing and memorabilia.” – Delegate Joe Ellington

In his defense of the bill, Ellington said, “The model policy does protect the student’s right to voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint. It protects the student’s right to include religious beliefs in homework, artwork and other written and oral assignments without being penalized or rewarded. It protects the student’s right to assemble for prayer groups, religious clubs or other gatherings. It ensures that students have equal rights to student facilities. It ensures that students have equal rights to advertise. It ensures that students have the right to wear religious clothing and memorabilia.”

The 22 delegates who voted against House Bill 4069 included 17 Democrats and five Republicans.

 

By Jim Wallace

The Senate has passed the latest version of what’s called the Tim Tebow Act, which would allow home-schooled students and students at religious and private schools that are not members of the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission to participate on public school sports teams. The vote Tuesday to pass Senate Bill 131 and send it to the House of Delegates was 24 to nine with Republicans and Democrats divided on each side of the vote.

The bill is named after a former home-schooled student who played in public school sports before going on to become a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at the University of Florida and help his team win two national championships. Supporters of the legislation have tried several times in the past to get similar bills passed and even got one through the legislature in 2017 only to have Gov. Jim Justice, who coaches girls’ basketball, veto it.

Just before the vote, a few senators explained their support or opposition to the bill.

Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, supported the bill and said he learned the value of inclusion when he served as an assistant coach for the boys’ basketball team at Huntington High School that won three AAA championships in a four-year period.

“I think sports promote leadership,” he said. “Certainly, there was a better understanding of diversity that I saw. I think sports promote a better empathy for other students. And I think sports participation promotes self-restraint, self-discipline. So with all that being said I wonder why we would exclude these students from that participation and that growth, that socialization.” I have been undecided on this bill, but now favor it.”

On the other side, Sen. Paul Hardesty, D-Logan, said he opposed the bill reluctantly.

“I do not think that any child in the home-school setting or the parochial setting should be discriminated against,” he said. ”I think they should have all the opportunities afforded them as any other child. Their parents pay taxes, and I get that.”

However, Hardesty, who previously served on the Logan County school board, said the bill could have unintended consequences, especially in a district like his where sports are king.

“Sports is way more important in southern West Virginia than an education ever was. Although that’s sad, it’s a fact. It’s reality.” – Sen. Paul Hardesty

“Sports is way more important in southern West Virginia than an education ever was,” he said. “Although that’s sad, it’s a fact. It’s reality.”

Hardesty’s concern was about a student who works hard to be academically eligible to play sports but who might get shut out of playing because of the inclusion of non-public school students on the public school teams. His fear is that the student’s parent or grandparent might pull the student out of school on the pretext of home-schooling, but instead the student might do little more than watch television while missing out on hot meals served for breakfast and lunch at school.

“It’s not the kids coming in that concern me,” Hardesty said. “It’s the kids that migrate out. It’s that marginal student. The one that’s got a good home life and two supportive parents, he’s going to be fine. We all know that. But is there the possibility of having unintended consequences because of this bill for kids that are already in the public school system to gracefully bow out?”

Suggesting that Tim Tebow would not have wanted that, he added, “Having been a three-term board member, I see this. I see it every day. I worry about these children and the unintended consequences of the bill.”

If this bill would become law, Hardesty said, the state school board should analyze how many students are lost. “If we start seeing those people on the fringes start falling out, we need to do something and go back and revisit it and tighten it up and amend it to make it better,” he said.

Bill goes too far for one senator.

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, also opposed the bill reluctantly. He said he would have supported it if it had been just for home-schoolers, but it would upset the system that governs high school sports in the state by permitting students from private and parochial schools that are not members of the SSAC to play public school sports.

“Under this bill, every private and parochial school that’s not a member of the SSAC could send their kids to a public school to play ball…. We’re going to give them unfettered access to our public school sports activities. I think that’s a mistake.” – Sen. Mike Romano

“This bill would have been great for home-schooled kids,” Romano said. “Under this bill, every private and parochial school that’s not a member of the SSAC could send their kids to a public school to play ball…. We’re going to give them unfettered access to our public school sports activities. I think that’s a mistake. What interest would Charleston Catholic have in staying in the SSAC and not allowing their kids to take advantage of that opportunity?”

The reference to Charleston Catholic High School was because it does not have a football team but competes in basketball and other SSAC sports.

Although he would have accepted a Tebow bill for home-schooled students, he said he shared Hardesty’s concerns about certain home-schooled students. “I think we make a mistake in home-schooling when we don’t keep out the parents who are using it to get out of truancy [violations] in our public schools,” Romano said, but he was more concerned about the private and parochial school students.

Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, said he voted against previous Tebow bills because of the student standards that were in them but he supports this year’s bill because those concerns have been addressed. He said he attended Catholic schools from first grade through ninth grade but chose to switch to public school after that because Brooke High School had a swim team while Madonna High School in Weirton did not. That worked out for him, he said, but such a switch might not be good for every student, so he supports Senate Bill 131.

“Why would you exclude these children from participating in sports when their parents are paying their property taxes?” – Sen. Mike Woelfel

Before the Senate voted, Woefel challenged Romano. “Why would you exclude these children from participating in sports when their parents are paying their property taxes?”

“My concern is we’ve not considered the system as it currently exists, as it governs itself,” Romano replied. “Again, we’re micromanaging the school system, this time from an athletics standpoint. But by allowing the non-SSAC private and parochial schools into this system, we’re actually disadvantaging the private and parochial schools that are part of the SSAC.”

On the subject of micromanagement, Romano said, “If we want to take it over, we ought to get rid of the SSAC and make it the legislature who makes those decisions.”

Choosing home-schooling is different from choosing a private or parochial school, he said. “That’s a choice of a different education system,” he said. “I think our home-schoolers are still within our public education system in a couple of ways: 1) they’re overseen by the public education system; and 2) if they want to come in and take a class in the public education system, they’re permitted. A private or parochial school student is not permitted to come in and out of the public school system the way home-schoolers are. They’re a different animal. I like the idea of including home-schoolers, of giving them the advantage of being able to enter into the athletic system of the high schools. I don’t think it should apply to our private and parochial schools that are not in that system.”

“Who makes that choice?” Woelfel asked. “Is it the child or the parent?”

Romano responded that many students influence their parents, but the parents make the choice. However, he said, it happens all the time that children have to bear the consequences of their parents’ decisions.

“So you’re going to punish the kid for the choice the parent makes, right?” Woelfel asked.

“I’m not trying to punish anybody,” Romano said. “That was never my intention. My intention is not to disrupt a system that is governing the entire state in high school athletics. My intention is not to allow our desire to help one group of students by disadvantaging all the rest of them by allowing non-SSAC member private and parochial schools from entering into the public school system of the athletics unless they want to be a member of the SSAC and abide by their rules.”

In defense of the bill, Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said, “In terms of the concern that was raised regarding students who may be leaving the school system because they’re not doing so well in school or because of a truancy issue, I want to emphasize for the members this bill actually has additional criteria and oversight over those students who wish to participate in Tim Tebow…. The amount of proof that the parents are going to have to turn over to the school to show that their child is at level and doing well is actually double what the regular home-schooled student has to do. We have more oversight over those students.”

“We need to tune out all the political noise surrounding this issue, and we need to focus on the children.” – Sen. Patricia Rucker

Rucker said one of her core beliefs is to meet the needs of all kids. “We need to tune out all the political noise surrounding this issue, and we need to focus on the children,” she said, adding that extracurricular activities can help students be successful as adults.

Senate Bill 131 now goes to the House of Delegates. If the House approves it and it goes to Gov. Justice, he might not veto it as he did a previous Tim Tebow bill. He told MetroNews last week that he is inclined to sign this year’s bill.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates has passed without opposition a bill to help school districts hire teachers in areas of critical need. House Bill 4691 has gone to the Senate for further consideration.

“The bill extends the authorization to employ retired teachers in critical need areas to June 30 of 2025,” House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said just before the House vote. “Otherwise, it would expire this June. It also adds school counselor to the definition of teacher or substitute, so retired counselors could also be employed as long-term subs.”

The bill also would remove from state code provisions about the employment of prospective employable personnel and replaces them with a more concise version. Ellington said that is another way the bill would help school districts fill vacancies.

“The new employment of prospective teachers provisions are more straightforward and consolidate the authority to employ prospective teachers on provisional contracts pending graduation and certification.” – Delegate Joe Ellington

“A common practice in many of our school systems is to post large numbers of position openings for next year in July,” he said. “By that time of the year, most graduates from teacher preparation programs have already secured employment elsewhere. Finding new qualified teachers, particularly in the STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields, is also getting harder every year across the country. The school systems in other states hire our new graduates in February, March and April, well before we even tell them we are looking. The new employment of prospective teachers provisions are more straightforward and consolidate the authority to employ prospective teachers on provisional contracts pending graduation and certification.”

The House approved House Bill 4691 on a vote of 97 to zero. It has gone to the Senate Education Committee.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee approved House Bill 4804 on Thursday to improve induction and professional growth programs that help new teachers.

One teacher mentor who serves on the committee, Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, said he highly supports the bill because the current mentorship program is not really working.

“Unfortunately, in my school and in my county, we’re seeing a lot of new teachers and a lot of turnover very quickly. I think this legislation would greatly alleviate some of the teachers’ leaving and help us retain some of our really good teachers before they get burned out and they feel alone in the classroom and they’re just drowning. I think this will be a good step in the right direction.” – Delegate Cody Thompson

“It’s a good idea, but the amount of time I get to work with our new teachers is just not conducive to retention,” he said. “Unfortunately, in my school and in my county, we’re seeing a lot of new teachers and a lot of turnover very quickly. I think this legislation would greatly alleviate some of the teachers’ leaving and help us retain some of our really good teachers before they get burned out and they feel alone in the classroom and they’re just drowning. I think this will be a good step in the right direction.”

The law for comprehensive systems of support goes back a few years. The legislature passed it at the same time as an evaluation process for teachers was put into statute. Dave Mohr, senior policy analyst for the House Education Committee, said the idea was that principals would pick up a lot of information on teachers because new teachers would have four observations per year and intermediate-level teachers would have two observations per year. That was to lead to more help for teachers who needed it, he said.

However, Mohr said, line-items in the Department of Education’s budget for those resources suffered from mid-year cuts and dropped from about one million dollars to half a million dollars for both teachers and principals. That led to legislation devoting 20 percent of local share money to induction and professional growth for teachers and leaders, he said.

The first year that was in place, local share did not grow. Last year, the legislature changed the definition of local share by dropping it from 90 percent of what counties can collect through their regular levies to 85 percent. That took the growth out of last year’s growth in local share.

This year, local share did grow by an unusually large amount with the appropriation going from about $519,000 to a little more than $5 million, Mohr said, and it is expected to continue to grow. That led to thinking about putting some things into place to help districts use that money as productively as possible to help teachers during their first couple of years of employment, he said. The bill would amend that section of the code to have the Department of Education retain the first $100,000 of that $5 million to assist districts in putting together a teacher-leader framework that is built into the bill.

“They’re not leaving for other states; they’re leaving the profession just because they become frustrated with trying to work in a school system that’s just not supporting them as they’re trying to learn their way.” – Dave Mohr

Nationally, schools lose a high percentage of teachers in their first five years of employment, Mohr said. Although he said it’s hard to get a handle on the numbers in West Virginia because of so many reductions in force, he added, “They’re not leaving for other states; they’re leaving the profession just because they become frustrated with trying to work in a school system that’s just not supporting them as they’re trying to learn their way.”

Mohr said the bill is modeled after legislation from other states that have established such programs. The teacher leader frameworks anticipate some way of having schools figure out how to make time during the instructional day for teachers to work with each other, he said. The bill would take effect July 1, but he said he expects the Education Department to look first for districts with cultural leadership to make the system work before spreading it to other districts.

House Bill 4804 now goes to the House Finance Committee for further consideration.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee has approved a bill aimed at putting more psychologists in public schools.

House Bill 4112 would require county school boards to provide adequate mental health evaluations, services and counseling services for pupils in the public schools; and to establish minimum number of school psychologists by the 2022-2023 school year. Beginning in that year, each school board would have to employ at least one fulltime school psychologist certified by the state school superintendent for every 1,000 students in grades kindergarten through seven or the board could contract with licensed school psychologists or psychiatrists. However, each board would have to employ at least one school psychologist.

A fiscal note from the Department of Education estimates the bill would cost county school boards a bit more than $4 million. It estimates that an additional 50.19 school psychologists or psychiatrists would be needed statewide to meet the ratio in the bill.

Amy Willard, director of school finance for the department, said 155.44 school psychologists are employed now in the county school districts.

“Some counties already exceeded that ratio, and others don’t have any currently on staff, like they might contract for services,” she said. “I do not know how many of them actually provide the mental health services contemplated in the bill.”

Willard explained that the role for many psychologists is to handle testing for students with individualized education programs (IEPs) rather than address the mental health needs of students overall. Nine school boards reported no school psychologist on staff, so they must be contracting for services, she said.

Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, expressed support for the bill but also concern about it.

“I think this is a wonderful bill, but I’m also wondering in some of the rural places in the state some of the issues that we have in hiring qualified folks, if that would be an issue as well.” – Delegate Lisa Zukoff

“I think this is a wonderful bill, but I’m also wondering in some of the rural places in the state some of the issues that we have in hiring qualified folks, if that would be an issue as well,” she said. “Is there anything that would prohibit telemedicine being used in this type of a setting, if it’s needed? I just don’t want to set up our school systems for failure that they wouldn’t be able to find people that they need to meet this requirement.”

“There is a shortage of school psychologists,” Willard said. “I think perhaps there would be some difficulty in filling these, which I think is why there’s a phase-in…to let the schools kind of build up that capacity. But I definitely think that there could be the potential that some counties could have a difficult time finding qualified staff.”

Under Medicaid, some services can be provided through telehealth, she said, but she wasn’t sure if psychology is one of those.

Expressing strong support for the bill, Delegate Martin Atkinson, R-Roane, said the House voted 99 to zero last year to approve similar legislation, House Bill 2397, which died in the Senate Education Committee.

“Remember, prevention is cheap. What we’re talking about is trying to prevent drug problems, emotional problems in the future.” – Delegate Martin Atkinson

“Remember, prevention is cheap,” he said. “What we’re talking about is trying to prevent drug problems, emotional problems in the future.”

Atkinson said he attended public education forums last year at which the top concern for teachers seemed to be the emotional needs of the students. He cited these statistics:

  • 26 percent of West Virginia children have experienced at least one childhood trauma.
  • 17 percent have never received mental health services.
  • 29 percent have experienced drug use within their households.

“So, this is a big problem,” Atkinson said. “I think we need to address it.”

More mental health counseling in schools could help break a cycle, he said. “I mean 50 percent of our children don’t have parents,” he said. “Grandparents are raising the children – aunts, uncles, cousins, even an older sibling is raising these children. So they have needs, and in order to get to a drug-free workforce, it starts here. It starts with our students.”

Likewise, Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, said, “I rise in 110 percent full support of this bill as I think it is needed. However, I think there are other bills out there that would go great in collaboration with this bill that are in other committees and possibly could have been on the agenda but did not run for whatever reason that is.”

Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, also said more needs to be done to help students with their mental and emotional problems.

“I think it’s going to take some action besides this bill on the parts of some county educators and county school systems, as well as us here in the legislature because I know it’s been going on for 25 years that we’ve had a terrible shortage of school psychologists,” he said. “If we’re employing 155 right now, and their main job is just testing, that means we need another 155 to meet the goal of this bill, and that’s a lot of school psychologists. I’m not sure there’s that many people around that want to deal with those kinds of issues five days a week.”

The bill has gone to the House Finance Committee for further consideration.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee on Thursday approved House Bill 4649, which would require the state school board to implement trauma-informed practices in grades kindergarten through twelve, although at least a couple of the committee members opposed it.

To get an example of what trauma-informed practices are, the committee heard from Martha Wright, director of development at Crittenden Services in Wheeling. Several years ago, her agency developed a program called Trauma-Informed Elementary Schools – TIES.

“TIES is a different way of thinking about the classroom environment,” Wright said. “It is not about behavior management. It’s about building an environment where children can flourish. Sadly, children are most likely to be expelled from school in the very early years. You’re probably three times more likely to be expelled in your kindergarten year than any other time in your education.”

Frequently, young children are sent home because they’re too young or needed medication, she said.

TIES has provided free training in many schools and other venues on how trauma affects the brain and the classroom. The program also sends therapists or social workers into classrooms to observe and consult with teachers. They identify children who have trouble learning because of early exposure to trauma.

“You cannot discipline the trauma out of that child. You need to do an intervention.” – Martha Wright

“You cannot discipline the trauma out of that child,” Wright said. “You need to do an intervention.”

Specialists help children understand and deal with their emotional states, she said.

Committee members also learned that the Department of Education already provides schools with some help addressing trauma issues and is working on getting training on trauma into teacher preparation programs.

But as laudable as all that sounded, Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, said he couldn’t support it because he believes the school is the wrong setting for addressing such issues.

“I think the mother should be the person that takes care of the kids and deals with the behavioral issues and regulates a child’s behavior,” he said. “All this should be done at home.”

Further, Butler said, he thought the trauma program would be another example of over-reaching by state government.

“Every time we do this, we’re taking a little bit of resources away from the family structure that needs to be doing this.” – Delegate Jim Butler

“Every time we do this, we’re taking a little bit of resources away from the family structure that needs to be doing this,” he said. “Schools should be teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, as they say. The schools should not be nurses and psychologists. This should be taken care of at home, and I know that it isn’t always taken care of at home. A lot of that is, I have to say, because of the policies this legislature has implemented over the years being easier on drug abuse, and now we’re legalizing marijuana and other mind-altering drugs and making it easier to get access to alcohol – all the things that are tearing our families apart. So our move here in the legislature has been to weaken the families and to strengthen government and to take all the resources away from homes. My personal experience has shown me that does not work.”

Another opponent of the bill, Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said he feared the program could do more harm than good for the schools. “I am concerned that there is only so much time in an instructional day, and every additional required training that you have just makes it more and more difficult to accomplish the other priorities of education,” he said.

But other delegates were more receptive to the proposal. “We talk about model legislation every year, and I feel that this bill right here is our model legislation for this year,” Delegate Amanda Estep-Burton said. “I think it’s important to note that there are several national organizations that will train our school staff for free, and then we can use the train-the-trainer program to keep this implemented. It can come at little or no cost to the schools.”

Also supportive of the bill was Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall. “This isn’t another training program,” she said. “This is a holistic approach to education with our children. It includes teachers. It includes helping the children self-regulate when they’re experiencing issues that are triggering their behaviors. That, in turn, is helping other students, who may have a positive home life and not experienced trauma, learn in the classroom. I think that’s critical. I also think it makes information available to parents who want to learn how to help their children in this way. So I think this is a win-win.”

House Bill 4649 now goes to the full House of Delegates.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate has passed what has been called a cleanup bill to reinstate suicide prevention requirements that were removed inadvertently from state code in 2018 in a bill that eliminated the Department of Education and the Arts. The vote on Senate Bill 230 was 33 to zero after Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, encouraged his colleagues to support it because of what he called West Virginia’s “silent epidemic” of youth suicide.

“When we’re talking about children between the ages of 12 and 18, it’s the second-leading cause of death,” he said. “When it comes to those between 18 and 22, it’s also the second-leading cause of death. Nationally, West Virginia ranks 18th in the nation – and that’s fairly tragic – when it comes to suicide rates.”

Weld said when West Virginia children were asked if they had considered suicide in the past 12 months, 18.7 percent answered yes. The national average is 17.7 percent, so West Virginia is a full percentage point above the national average, he said.

“Those are some pretty dire statistics, and I think that’s why this bill is necessary to encourage and require this type of training be in place for those in the school systems who are closest to these kids who may be answering yes to these questions.” – Sen. Ryan Weld

“And I think the scariest one is: Have you ever attempted suicide in the past 12 months?” Weld said. “And 9.9 percent of West Virginia students who were asked that question said yes. The national average is only 8.6 [percent], so we’re 1.3 percentage points above that. Those are some pretty dire statistics, and I think that’s why this bill is necessary to encourage and require this type of training be in place for those in the school systems who are closest to these kids who may be answering yes to these questions.”

The American Society for Suicide Prevention helped with this bill, Weld said.

Senate Bill 230 has gone to the House Education Committee.

 

By Jim Wallace

The Senate is considering a bill that would allow school districts to adopt alternative programs for grades three through six that focus on preventing childhood obesity and secondary diseases associated with it. That would be instead of a program on nutrition now required by the state school board. It also would provide state funding for them. Secondary diseases associated with childhood obesity include: diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, asthma, certain cancers, low-self-esteem, and depression.

Senate Bill 702 would establish the Nutrition and Exercise Education Fund from which money would be awarded on a competitive basis to eligible school districts. The state school board would provide guidelines for administration of the fund, and the Education Department would report to the governor and the legislature on awards made from the fund. The programs would have to be at least eight weeks long with testing beforehand and afterward. School districts would be allowed to contract with qualified service providers to handle the programs.

In its original version, the bill would have removed the requirement for testing students’ body composition and use of body mass index data from state code, but Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, objected. Speaking as a physician, he said BMI is an important number.

Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, explained the intention behind striking the BMI requirement from the law. “There are those who feel body mass index makes students who may have issues with being overweight feel bad or somehow more of a target for – you know,” she said. “So we have gone to other measures.”

But Stollings said, “I hope we’re not just putting our head in the sand.”

Sarah Stewart, legislative liaison for the Department of Education, told the committee that BMI testing is set up in such a way that the numbers should not be disclosed to students other than those being tested.

“We do have basically an epidemic of obesity.” – Sen. Ron Stollings

The committee accepted an amendment from Stollings to leave the BMI requirement in state law. “We do have basically an epidemic of obesity,” he said, adding that BMI is more useful than just weight because it takes both height and weight into consideration.

Senate Bill 702 received the first of three required readings on the Senate floor Thursday, so it was on track to pass in the Senate as early as Monday.

 

By Jim Wallace

A bill to require public high school students to complete a full-credit course on personal finance is headed for potential passage in the House of Delegates early next week.

The House Education Committee gave its approval to House Bill 2775 this week and sent it to the full House, where it was scheduled to receive the first of three required readings on the House floor today. That would set it up for a final House vote on Tuesday.

“Personal finance, in my opinion, next to reading and writing, is probably the most important thing that we can get these kids out of high school with.” – Delegate Robert Thompson

“Personal finance, in my opinion, next to reading and writing, is probably the most important thing that we can get these kids out of high school with,” Delegate Robert Thompson, D-Wayne, said. “They constantly say, ‘You’re not doing anything to prepare us. Why do we need to know this stuff?’ Well, this is one thing that they absolutely need to know to function in life.”

In its original version, the bill called for a half-credit course, but the committee amended it to make it a full-credit course. Joey Wiseman, executive director of the Education Department’s Office of Middle and Secondary Learning, told the committee that credit would either have to come out of a current course in math or social studies or the total number of required credits would have to increase.

Currently, the state school board requires 22 credits for graduation, but districts are allowed to offer more than that. Just 11 districts require only 22 credits for graduation, Wiseman said, two districts require the maximum of 28 credits, one requires 27, and most districts require 24.

The committee revised the bill to provide that no other credit may be substituted for personal finance and to require an examination at the end of the course. The state school board would be required to develop standards for the coursework before July 1, 2021.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates approved House Bill 4790 on career technical education for middle school students Thursday.

“This bill modifies 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,” House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, told his colleagues. “At the middle school level, the program may be integrated with comprehensive career explorations, which also may include but is not limited to CTE foundational courses, stand-alone career exploration courses, and mini-courses, guest speakers and career mentors, as provided in the state board rule. Beginning with the school year ’22-’23, county boards of education must provide elective CTE courses for middle school students that may include, but are not limited to, foundational CTE courses, CTE courses developed with a high school of high-need occupational areas within their area or region, agriculture, industrial arts and home economics.”

Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, said she supported the bill partly because it sets a precedent that the legislature considers career technical education in middle school to be important.

“We’re very fortunate in Marshall County to already have a middle school CTE program,” she said. “We have three middle schools. They all have a CTE program, and we have 75 percent participation across the board in CTE in those schools. It also leads to students being better ready to move into trades or certificate programs or nursing school because they have access at lower grade levels to understand what’s going to be available to them in the community and through the CTE programs. We’ve seen that this program has expanded our students getting ready for the workforce. As a matter of fact, some of our high school students are all ready to go and they’re hired as soon as they graduate. So I see this as an added benefit for the students in West Virginia.”

Also speaking in favor of the bill was Delegate Caleb Hanna, R-Webster, who said it would let students know there are pathways to success that don’t require four-year college degrees, and it would give school boards flexibility to do what they need to do.

“The sooner that we can introduce children to different career aspects the better.” – Delegate Caleb Hanna

“The sooner that we can introduce children to different career aspects the better,” he said.

But Delegate Andrew Robinson, D-Kanawha, complained that the bill would delay action already required by a bill passed last year. “This program should have been active in September of 2019,” he said. “The new legislation pushes this back to the 2022 to ’23 school year.”

The House voted 94 to one to approve the bill with Robinson as the only vote against it. It has gone to the Senate.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates has sent to the Senate a bill to require the teaching of certain historical documents in public, private and parochial schools in West Virginia but only after adding another document to the list.

House Bill 4398 would require school districts to incorporate into currently required courses of instruction 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 their original context, as well as provide guidelines on teaching of humanity. At the request of Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, the House amended the bill to include the Mayflower Compact.

The House voted 92 to three Thursday to pass the bill and send it to the Senate. Among the three delegates who voted against it was Patrick McGeehan, R-Hancock. Based on a question he asked before the vote, his objection seemed to be based on the provision that

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates is on track to pass as early as Monday to pass 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 House Education Committee approved the bill on Tuesday.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates could vote as early as Monday on a bill to remove an old requirement from state law for county school superintendents to be screened every two years for tuberculosis. Instead of having that required regular testing, the bill would provide that the commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health would be able to require such testing of a superintendent when there is reason to believe the superintendent might have been exposed to tuberculosis.

House Bill 4546 closely mimics House Bill 2669 from 2005 that did the same thing for teachers and other school personnel.

The House Education Committee approved the bill last week. The House Health and Human Resources Committee approved it this week. The bill received the first of three required readings in the House on Thursday, so it could be up for a vote on Monday.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate Judiciary Committee killed a bill Wednesday that could have restricted the actions that school boards and other local government entities, including county commissions, city councils and public service district boards, could take. Members of the committee expressed confusion about what the bill might do, and the legislative attorney who had seen the bill only a day earlier had trouble explaining what its effects might be.

The purpose of Senate Bill 135 was stated to be “to prohibit political subdivisions from enacting any ordinance, regulation, local policy, local resolution or other legal requirements regulating certain areas of the employer-employee relationship and the sale or marketing of consumer merchandise.”

The text of the bill says it would prohibit a political subdivision, as defined in state code, from adopting, enforcing or administering an ordinance, regulation, local policy, local resolution or other legal requirement regarding any of these specific areas:

  1. Regulating information an employer or potential employer must request, require, or exclude on an application for employment from an employee or a potential employee: Provided, That this section does not prohibit an ordinance, local policy, or local resolution requiring a criminal background check for an employee or potential employee in connection with the receipt of a license or permit from a local governmental body;
  2. Requiring an employer to pay to an employee a wage higher than any applicable state or federal law;
  3. Requiring an employer to pay to an employee a wage or fringe benefit based on wage and fringe benefit rates prevailing in the locality;
  4. Regulating work stoppage or strike activity of employers and their employees or the means by which employees may organize;
  5. Requiring an employer to provide to an employee paid or unpaid leave time;
  6. Requiring an employer or its employees to participate in any educational apprenticeship or apprenticeship training program that is not required by state or federal law;
  7. Regulating hours and scheduling that an employer is required to provide to employees;
  8. Regulating standards or requirements regarding the sale or marketing of consumer merchandise that are different from, or in addition to, any state law: Provided, That this section does not prohibit an ordinance, local policy, or local resolution that limits the hours a business may operate and does not apply to city solid waste or recycling collection programs; or
  9. Regulating standards of care or conduct for any profession regulated, licensed, or certified by the State of West Virginia.

Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, wondered why county school boards would be included in such restrictions. “What good does it do to cover them under this bill because how are they going to dictate what happens?” he asked.

“This bill has a strong possibility of curtailing government at the local level.” – Sen. Bob Beach

Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, said “This bill has a strong possibility of curtailing government at the local level.”

Sen. Paul Hardesty, D-Logan, said that, while it wasn’t clear exactly what was targeted by the bill, many local government entities could be caught in the crossfire. “It’s not very well thought out or very well written,” he said.

Hardesty is a former county school board member. So is Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, who asked, “Does that mean a county board of education could not set a policy to close schools if there is a work stoppage?” The answer was it apparently would not have that effect, but Baldwin remained skeptical.

It was suggested that the target of the bill would have been to prohibit local ordinances that would raise the minimum wage above the state level, impose a sugary drink tax or a ban on plastic straws, or effectively re-impose locally the prevailing wage the state eliminated or pre-empt the state Right to Work law. Municipalities in other states have taken such actions. The bill essentially could undo the effects of the home rule authority granted to many municipalities in recent years.

“What this bill does as I read it: it pre-empts regulatory authority,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said. It would apply largely to municipalities and counties rather than most other local political subdivisions, including school boards, he said. He said he favored uniformity in laws and regulations across the state.

A former county commissioner, Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, expressed alarm at the bill. “As a county commissioner, I did things all the time that I thought were in the best interests of the county,” he said, adding that if constituents thought otherwise, they could vote him out of office. “What we’re doing is we’re tying the hands of every city council and every PSD appointee and every county conservation commissioner. I mean we’re just tying their hands with this, and they could do nothing. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

The committee initially approved the bill and sent it to the Senate Government Organization Committee. But after a few of the majority Republicans left the meeting, Beach moved to reconsider the action on the bill because “a few of us were asleep at the wheel” when the committee initially voted on it. Trump said he saw no harm in voting again. The second vote ended in a tie, which prevented the bill from moving forward.

By Michael Erb, Staff Reporter at the Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG — Proposed legislation to move the start of the school year to September will prove disruptive for parents and takes local decision making away from local elected boards, members of the Wood County Board of Education say.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, members commented on two sister bills — Senate Bill 661 and House Bill 4745 — which have been sent to their respective Senate and House Education committees. Both bills seek to change the minimum number of minutes of instructional time per day to “an average of five hours per day throughout the instructional term,” according to summary language in both bills. The bills further “prohibit the instructional term from commencing before Sept. 1” and allows school boards to forgo announcing calendar hearings in local newspapers, instead posting those announcements on district web sites.

A similar House bill introduced earlier in the session by Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, was killed on third reading last month. House Bill 2433 would have required the school year to start no earlier than Sept. 1 and end no later than June 7. Counties that needed to start earlier or end later would have to receive a waiver from the state Board of Education.

The bill failed 47-50.

Board member Justin Raber said while the new bills introduced in both chambers are slightly different than Kelly’s bill, the same argument applies.

“We continue to deal with laws that want to restrict the local school system’s ability to set the school calendar,”Raber said. “It really concerns me.”

Board President Rick Olcott said local officials already welcome input from the community and base the calendar on local needs.

“There seems to be some concern (at the state level) of local boards not listening, and I’m not sure why,”Olcott said. “We do seek a lot of public input and we do listen.”

Olcott said the new bills seem largely driven by lawmakers from a handful of counties and may be more driven by tourism than academic needs. Olcott also said if the bills pass — and he believes there is a good chance they will — parents as well as the board will find themselves placed in a difficult situation.

The bills “still requires 180 days of instruction, still have a lot of the other constraints,” he said. “The input from the community of do you want spring break, do you want Thanksgiving week off … that may determine how late we go to school and that would take it almost into July.”

Raber said he believes the calendar bills are another example of local state representatives seeming to oppose local decision making without actually speaking to local officials. Raber and Olcott both pointed to several local state representatives who spoke out repeatedly against closure and consolidation plans in Wood County. Those plans ultimately were approved by the local school board and state Board of Education.

“Give the local counties the option to figure out what meets and meshes best with their community needs and school system needs,”Olcott said.

Michael Erb can be reached at merb@newsandsentinel.com.

Editor’s Note: This article was published in the Local News section of the Feb. 13, 2020 edition of the Parkersburg News and Sentinel. Used by permission. 

 

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.