July 13, 2012 - Volume 32 Issue 21


“Journalism is literature in a hurry.” – Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), British poet and cultural critic.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A detailed roadmap of how intervention counties can move toward progress was presented Thursday to the West Virginia Board of Education (WVBE) during its monthly board meeting.

“Up until now, we have provided oral guidance to counties about the next steps and expectations related to an intervention,” said West Virginia Deputy Superintendent of Schools Chuck Heinlein. “The Process and Guidelines for Superintendents and Local Boards Under Intervention Status document is a comprehensive, step-by-step explanation of what will happen under intervention, expectations and responsibilities. Our goal is for this document to strengthen communication among the Office of Education Performance Audits (OEPA), the West Virginia School Board Association (WVSBA), the West Virginia Department of Education and the intervention counties so that students are provided the education they deserve.”

The WVBE places a county under intervention only after an audit has been conducted by the OEPA. Deficiencies in areas such as finance, facilities, student achievement, personnel and board relations lead to intervention.
Non-approval status and a declared state of emergency have been used 10 times since 1988 by the WVBE. Currently, six West Virginia county school systems are under full state control. Those counties include Mingo, McDowell, Preston, Grant, Fayette and Gilmer. Lincoln County just earned full approval status from the OEPA but must pass one more audit before full local control can be regained.

The document presented to the WVBE includes topics such as standards used by the OEPA to determine accreditation status; requirements and recommendations for intervention county superintendent; recommendations for the county board of education; and the process for regaining local control.
“On behalf of the West Virginia School Board Association, we commend the WVDE and state Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple for providing what will become the road map for intervention counties,” said Howard O’Cull, executive director of the WVSBA. “The document outlines roles, duties, and responsibilities for county boards under intervention and also includes explicit timelines, ways technical support will be provided and measures for progress.”

The current document is in draft form and will be altered based on suggestions provided by board members.

For more information, contact the WVDE Communications Office at (304) 558-2699.

The draft guidelines will be discussed at an association Executive Board Retreat scheduled for August 3-4. That meeting will be held in Morgantown, according to O’Cull.


By Jim Wallace

Ever since results of a statewide audit of West Virginia’s public education system were released in January, many people from the state school board to the Tomblin administration to educators to legislators have been analyzing them and figuring out how to respond to them. The nonprofit group Vision Shared has participated in that process by joining Gov. Tomblin and the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce in holding a series of eight public forums around the state to gather comments.

Rebecca Randolph, president and chief executive officer of Vision Shared, told members of Education Subcommittee B at their June meeting that her organization broke the audit into three parts:

  1. Connecting education to career development;
  2. Supporting and improving school leadership in classroom teaching; and
  3. Making West Virginia a leader in remote technology and distance learning.

Randolph said the biggest interest it the first few forums was in supporting and improving school leadership. “That’s the meat and potatoes, I think, of this audit as far as our community audiences are concerned,” she said.

Other preferences expressed at the forums, Randolph said, included: appropriating more money for online courses, especially remediation and advanced placement courses; hiring more technology integration specialists; and using more digital textbooks.

Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, criticized Vision Shared for not holding a forum in Huntington and not doing enough to notify legislators about the forums. Randolph said more forums could be scheduled, but that would delay the release of Vision Shared’s report on the forums, which is scheduled to come out in September.

“You’re going to see that the recommendations in the audit are going to require a number of substantial changes in state law.” – Sen. Greg Tucker

Sen. Greg Tucker, D-Nicholas, said at the end of the meeting, “You’re going to see that the recommendations in the audit are going to require a number of substantial changes in state law.”




By Jim Wallace

West Virginia’s public education system is taking several steps to reduce truancy and the number of students who drop out of school. Amelia Courts, assistant superintendent in the Division of Curriculum and Instructional Services, told one legislative committee that those efforts include several initiatives with the judicial system and several pilot projects.
“West Virginia has focused for the past two years on a series of efforts around dropout prevention,” Courts told members of Education Subcommittee C at their late June meeting. “We have partnered with Robert Balfanz, who is a professor and did a series of reports on dropout prevention. One of his key findings in his national research is that there are three issues tied to dropout prevention, what we call the ABCs of dropout prevention.”

Those issues are:

  1. Attendance
  2. Behavior
  3. Course failure or success

Courts gave the subcommittee a list of 13 types of initiatives the Education Department has been involved in to prevent students from dropping out. Among those initiatives are the School Justice Partnerships to Increase School Attendance. She said the department has been working with the judicial system on several initiatives at the local level to strengthen the relationships between schools and the judicial system. The goal is to find the best ways to address issues with students, she said.

“Most of the time, the parent is the key factor in that child’s attending school or not attending school,” Courts said. “Or at the high school level, the child’s level of initiative or lack of responsibility in attending school is also key.”

Also on the list are Local Solutions for Dropout Prevention & Recovery Innovation Zones, which she said resulted directly from legislation. Courts said nine schools or districts are piloting initiatives this year.

But she said one of the hard parts of dealing with dropout and truancy issues is how to arrange the data. “We do have a unique student ID that links each student in West Virginia to our WVEIS, our [West Virginia Education] Information System,” Courts said. “Through that system, we can track student attendance or student absences. One of the issues is that many students who are absent are also very transient. They move from this school to that school, from this county to that county. So when we look at running WVEIS reports, we typically run them on the second-month report and the tenth-month report. So you could have a child in WVEIS that has, for example, five absences in the second-month report and the child is listed in County A, and then later, when we run the next report, they now have 10 absences and they’re now listed attending in County B, because they have been very mobile in those months. Part of the issue is really pinning down exactly where that student should be tied, where those absences should be connected back to, so that we can really represent an accurate student picture in terms of student absences.”

Marshall Patton, executive director of the Office of Information Systems, told the subcommittee that, historically, 10 absences were needed to be considered truancy, but now just five days are enough. The data follow students from school to school, he said, so the real issue isn’t making sure the data are accurate but in determining the period to reflect in a report.


New system would provide schools with early warnings of potential dropouts.

Courts said the department also is working on a pilot of an early warning system. “Each school will have access to a very visually user-friendly report that would flag for their particular school the number of students that have reached X number of absences,” she said. “It would also flag those students that have X number of course failures, as well as those that have X number of discipline issues.” Schools could use that system to see whether they have students who might have the potential to become dropouts, she said, and they can put into place certain interventions that address the specific needs of that school.

But some lawmakers were confused about what kind of data the department is collecting. Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said it sounded to him as though data are being collected, but they are not available. Courts said the data are available, but the difficulty is in how to deal with duplicated counts caused by students moving from school to school. Instead of showing 280,000 students in the public schools, it shows 330,000 students, she said, because about 50,000 students are counted in more than one school.

Sen. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, said the absentee rate should be tracked over the past five years to see all of the trends.

“You’re absolutely correct that a lot of these issues are multi-faceted and they’re linked together,” Courts said, adding that some individual teachers have done what’s necessary to follow up on kids’ problems. “What we haven’t really done is given schools a live snapshot every single day that says, here’s where you are in terms of student absences in your building.”

Such a report could provide schools with “red flags” for students with numerous absences, she said, so the department hopes it will be a better tool that principals, counselors and others can use. Courts also said that everything the department has been hearing about collaboration with the judicial system is that it is having huge effects beyond the schools to communities in general.

“I have come to the conclusion that somebody in authority or an adult has to care whether that child goes to school or not. I’m ashamed to say that most don’t.” – Delegate Brady Paxton

Delegate Brady Paxton, D-Putnam, said he taught for 30 years and found there were no truancy problems with football players and cheerleaders. “I have come to the conclusion that somebody in authority or an adult has to care whether that child goes to school or not,” he said. “I’m ashamed to say that most don’t.”

Threatening to take away a student’s driver’s license for not attending school doesn’t work, he said. “Somebody has to be aware of where that child is.”

Courts agreed that all students need relationships with adults who care about them.

“I hope this bears fruit,” Paxton said.

Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, said he has dealt with truancy quite a bit in his work as an assistant county prosecutor. He said sometimes educational neglect charges must be brought against some parents in court. Marcum suggested that the Department of Health and Human Resources should be notified before a student reaches 10 days of absences. He said it is important to deal with such students as early as possible.

Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette, asked Courts for data broken down by county, and Plymale seconded that request.


GED will cost more but also offer more.

The subcommittee also heard from Debra Kimbler, an assistant director in the Education Department’s Office of Adult Education and Workforce Development, about upcoming changes in the GED, the General Educational Development Diploma, as it switches from a paper-and-pencil format to a computer-based format and more than doubles the cost of each test. Senate Bill 646, which the Legislature approved in March, required the department to report to the Legislature no later than July 1 on the changes and how West Virginia should deal with them. Although GED Testing Service will not switch solely to computer-based tests until 2014, Kimbler said, West Virginia plans to begin using them in 2013.

“The computer-based test is just a steppingstone to get the GED test-takers to the point where they can take this new test,” she said. The new test will have four content areas instead of the current five, because reading and writing have been combined, she said, but it also will offer test-takers more than just the equivalent of a high school diploma.

“This new test is fantastic in that it not only determines if the test-taker has the skill for a high school diploma, but it will also give the test-taker guidance in career readiness,” Kimbler said. It will show when a student shows strengths in a particular career and suggest the student should visit a career-tech center to pursue that career, she said. It also will let test-taker know if he or she is ready for college or need remediation, she said.

“It’s three tests in one rather than just a high school equivalency test.” – Debra Kimbler

“This is basically where we’re going to get our money back, because it’s three tests in one rather than just a high school equivalency test,” Kimbler said. Other new features are that a test-taker will get immediate score reports on everything but writing and will have access to a hotline 24 hours a day. She said the new score reports will show strengths and what the test-takers need to work on, which is good not only for students but also for adult basic education instructors.

Kimbler said West Virginia is prepared better than most other states to make the switch. She said it was among only nine states in 2010 that had computers in at least three-quarters of their testing sites. “That tells us we have always been a leader in computers and technology,” she said.

West Virginia was used in a study to determine test-takers’ perceptions of the new tests, Kimbler said, and it determined that just about everyone had a comfort level with computer-based testing. She said the GED Testing Service also changed the way it asked questions more than 500 times to figure out how best to do it.


Cost goes up.

One reason legislators have been concerned about the changes in the GED is that West Virginia is among only four states that provide the testing free to test-takers. Instead of paying just $50 per test, the state will have to pay $120. Most states pass along the cost of the test to those who take it. The charge is more than $50 in 36 states, and it already is $100 or more in eight states. Kimbler said one testing site in Michigan has been charging $300.

However, she said the net cost to West Virginia won’t be $120 per test, because the GED Testing Service has agreed to reimburse all test centers $38 per test. Also, the state no longer will have to pay for scoring or for leasing the test.

“So we think it’s going to come out OK in the wash,” she said. “We can still function with that $38 reimbursement to the test site.”

The total cost of offering GED tests for free to test-takers has been $554,600 at the old cost. Kimbler said it will be $752,280 with the computer-based tests. She said more than 23,000 people have taken the GED since it became free in West Virginia in 2008. The record year was 2009, when 6,167 people took the test.


Test-takers could not afford cost on their own.

Kimbler said she surveyed 114 test-takers and 98 of them said they could not afford to take the GED if they had to pay the full $120 cost. She said no state can control the cost of the GED, but none has pulled out yet.

“I tried to bargain with them to get them to cut West Virginia a discount. However, it didn’t work. They said the $120 price was the same for every state, and it was up to the individual states as to how much they would make the test-takers pay.” – Debra Kimbler

“I tried to bargain with them to get them to cut West Virginia a discount,” Kimbler said about a call she made to people at the GED Testing Service. “However, it didn’t work. They said the $120 price was the same for every state, and it was up to the individual states as to how much they would make the test-takers pay.”

It would be very lengthy and costly for a state to develop its own test, she added. “We don’t have that luxury, because our test-takers need to take that test today in order to get that job tomorrow.”

When people were asked whether they would rather take a paper-pencil test that might be recognized only in West Virginia as equivalent to a high school diploma or take a computer-based test recognized nationally, they preferred the computer-based test, Kimbler said.

The state plans to launch its first computer-based GED pilot this month at Garnet Career Center in Kanawha County. Kimbler said the state will go to computer-based testing for all takers beginning in January, but she plans to keep the paper-pencil tests at the Regional Education Service Agencies for one year in case some adults need it.

The GED test will use technology that also will be used for job applications, job training and training programs, which will have additional benefits, she said, because the U.S. Department of Education has listed computer skills as a component of basic literacy. West Virginia also has made technology a priority by putting millions of dollars into it in public schools, Kimbler said, “So we have to continue this with our adults.”

The GED Testing Service is sending trainers to West Virginia to train teachers on the computer-based testing, she said.

“West Virginia GED test-takers are ready to take the challenge,” Kimbler said. “But you know what? Unless we continue with free GED testing, we will never know if they were ready for that challenge, because they can’t afford it.”



By Jim Wallace

The West Virginia Department of Education is preparing to give county school boards more leeway in helping new teachers become better teachers.

Amelia Courts, assistant superintendent in the Division of Curriculum and Instructional Services, told legislators that county boards will have until next March to submit their proposals for the Improving Professional Practice Implementation Guidelines in March 2013. She said there will be time for feedback after that.

Courts told members of the Legislative Oversight Committee on Education Accountability that the guidelines would be part of the county professional development plan that boards already have to submit. But she said the department is giving the districts flexibility in how they spend their mentoring funds. It also is encouraging them to look at other resources, such as Title I funds, Title II funds and other resources, to make sure that human resources personnel and others are providing the necessary support to use new feedback from the new evaluation system, Court said. The department wants districts to identify at the school level how to align professional development to focus on where help is needed most, she said.

Every school system is different, Courts said, but the attrition rate and the number of resignations from the previous three years will affect systems for supporting new teachers. She said some assessments after the first year will assure that the supports the districts are providing get the bang for the buck they intended. The department wants to address teachers across the continuum of experience, she said, but it especially wants to make sure that beginning teachers get positive, meaningful experiences.

“We know that nationally we lose about 50 percent of teachers in the first five years of teaching,” Courts said, so it’s important to provide meaningful support to beginning educators and struggling educators.”


Other programs are in the works.

On another matter, she said the state school board has adopted two policies related to establishing a teacher-in-residence program, which will provide another means for new teachers to become certified. Courts said Supt. Jorea Marple received positive comments about the program at a recent conference for county superintendents.

In addition, she said, the state board took seriously a law passed this year requiring the establishment of a program to provide suicide prevention training for teachers and other school personnel. Courts said the department has worked with the Center for Professional Development on coming up with training that would be integrated into other efforts to improve school environments.

Also during the meeting, Deputy Supt. Chuck Heinlein said a new report from the Southern Regional Education Board shows that West Virginia has made significant progress on many measures. Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said the report shows that some states require students to pass statewide exams to graduate, so he wondered what West Virginia is doing about that. Heinlein said West Virginia does not have such a requirement, but a policy that is being revised might include it.



By Jim Wallace

West Virginia children, like West Virginians in general, have many health-related problems, but some officials are hopeful that efforts to improve the health of public school students are beginning to show some results.

Eloise Elliott of the West Virginia CARDIAC Project told members of Education Subcommittee A at their June meeting that statistics show that problems such as obesity among children seem to at least be leveling off, although they still are bad. CARDIAC stands for Coronary Artery Risk Detection in Appalachian Communities. The program is based at the Department of Pediatrics at the School of Medicine at West Virginia University. It offers standardized health screenings and measurements of body-mass index (BMI) and other factors at schools throughout the state.

For fifth-grade students, the program has completed 14 years of measurements. It has completed nine years for kindergarten students, seven years for second-graders and three years for eighth-graders. Children’s age and gender are considered when using BMI, which is the relationship between height and weight, to determine whether they are underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. Normal weight is anything from the fifth through the 84th percentile. Below the fifth percentile is considered underweight. Anyone in the 85th through the 94th percentile is considered overweight, and anyone in the 95th percentile and above is considered obese.

In 2009-2010, about 17 percent of all children in the United States were obese, but in West Virginia, the rates were 18.8 percent among kindergartners, 22.5 percent among second-graders and 27.5 among fifth-graders. The one reason for hope among the statistics compiled by the CARDIAC program is that the 2012 results are slightly lower than the average of all years the screenings have been conducted. For example, the rate of obesity among fifth graders in 2012 is 27.8 percent, which is down from the average of 28.3 percent.

“We’re not where we need to be, but I really think a lot of the necessary infrastructure and the stars are aligning where we can actually tackle this thing.” – Senate Health and Human Resources Chairman Ron Stollings

"We’re not where we need to be, but I really think a lot of the necessary infrastructure and the stars are aligning where we can actually tackle this thing,” Senate Health and Human Resources Chairman Ron Stollings, D-Boone, said. West Virginia is the only state with a physical activity plan modeled after the national plan, he said, and the Academy of Pediatrics has changed its recommended guidelines based on CARDIAC data in West Virginia to go from selective screening to universal screening of kids.

Although the statistics offer slight hope, they still leave plenty to be concerned about: The rates of overweight or obese students are 46.5 percent of fifth-graders, 38.9 percent of second-graders and 30.8 percent of kindergarteners. In other words, the rates are high and they get worse as students get older.

“So we need to catch them young,” Elliott said. “I think that’s astounding data because it’s much higher than the national average.”


Extra pounds bring extra problems.

Being overweight or obese is bad enough, she said, but it brings with it several other problems:

  • Most have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
  • They are more likely to have pre-diabetes.
  • They have greater risk of bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems.
  • They most likely will become obese adults.
  • They will have increased risk for some types of cancer in adulthood.
  • Their condition could hinder their academic performance, according to recent studies.

“There are all kinds of reasons we need to work on the health of our children in West Virginia,” Elliott said. She offered four important preventive steps that should be taken:

  • Increase physical activity;
  • Decrease sedentary time (screen time);
  • Increase healthy dietary intake (particularly fruits and vegetables); and
  • Decrease sugary drink consumption.

Elliott recommended the American Academy of Pediatrics’ 5-2-1-0 Campaign, which calls for children to get five servings of fruit and vegetables, no more than two hours of screen time, one hour of physical activity and no sugary drinks each day. But West Virginia has plenty of room for improvement, because it ranked second in the nation in 2009 for physical inactivity with a rate of 33.2 percent, which was much higher than the national average of 24.6 percent.

A 2010 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that only 25.5 percent of West Virginia students in grades nine through 12 have daily physical education, which is lower than the 30.3 percent national rate. But Elliott said it’s not enough for just schools to promote physical activity and good diets, because students spend only part of their time in school, and good habits must be supported at home. “What you do in school does not necessarily transfer over to change in behavior,” she said.

However, it can be harder to promote physical activity in West Virginia than in many other states. That 2010 CDC report further shows that only 27.2 percent of young West Virginians have parks, community centers and sidewalks in their neighborhoods. The national rate is about 50 percent. Also, the percentage of West Virginians in census blocks with a park within a half-mile of their boundary is just 5.6 percent, while the rate is 20.3 percent nationally.

“What you do in school does not necessarily transfer over to change in behavior.” – Eloise Elliott

In 2005, the Legislature passed House Bill 2816, the West Virginia Healthy Lifestyles Act, which included a mandate for increase physical activity/physical education in public schools. Elliott reported that an evaluation of the results of the act during the first two years it was in effect found:

  • Only 55 percent of counties in the first year had policies that require recess for elementary students, and only 24 percent of elementary principals had any policy in place that would disallow teachers to use recess as a disciplinary incentive.
  • Only 23 percent of schools in the second year offered a physical activity program to families after school.
  • Many physical education teachers (about 40 percent) rated both their indoor and outdoor physical education facilities as fair or poor. Only 64 percent indicated having gyms, and many of those indicated that the gyms were not for physical education exclusively.
  • About 81 percent of physical education teachers during the first year thought there should be more opportunities for structured physical activities during the school day. Only 6 percent of those teachers believed that physical activity was integrated well into the academic subjects in their classrooms.
  • Yearly budgets for physical education programs in the first year were primarily (72 percent) in the range of nothing to $500, which is inadequate to run high-quality physical education programs.
  • About 31 percent of elementary schools and 8 percent of middle schools in the second years were unable to provide the amount of physical education minutes per week mandated by law. About 56 percent of those were due to inadequate staffing, 5 percent to inadequate facilities and 39 percent to both.
  • About 39 percent of students tested by Fitnessgram (a fitness assessment and reporting program for young people developed by the Cooper Institute) in the second year needed improvement in aerobic capacity.
  • Parents reporting that their children were physically active for at least 60 minutes each day of the previous week decreased from 46 percent in the first year to 32 percent in the second year.

Elliott recommended that schools should serve as the focus for improved knowledge, attitudes and behaviors related to physical activity and dietary intake. She also recommended comprehensive school physical activity programming (such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program), high-quality physical education, and educational opportunities in physical activity and nutrition, and Fitnessgram testing and reporting to parents. She gave state Supt. Jorea Marple credit for being at the forefront of state superintendents promoting physical education.


Lawmakers worry about inactivity outside of school.

Delegate David Pethtel, D-Wetzel, said he has been a teacher for 39 years, and he sees see fewer kids playing outside when they’re not in school these days. He said that is because many of them stay inside to play computer games.

Elliott said, “The changing culture has made it much more difficult to promote physical activity in children, because they do have so many different options now.” She said technology is mostly to blame, but there also are safety issues, especially with more mothers working outside the home.

“We have to look at the environments around where people live,” Elliott said. “The physical activity choice has to be the healthy choice. The healthy choice has to be the easy choice. So there have to be opportunities within their immediate area that help give them those opportunities.” She said children need playgrounds, walking trails and summer programs at schools. Joint use agreements with schools that allow the schools to be used outside school hours are important, she added.

“There are areas you can’t walk down the road or you may get hit by a car,” Elliott said. “There are a number of barriers we have to consider; we can’t just say, ‘Kids, go out and play.’”

Delegate Linda Sumner, R-Raleigh, said part of the problem is that many schools were built not with gyms but with multi-purpose rooms used for meals and physical education. That takes away time needed for physical education, she said. Sumner said she would like playground equipment to be included in the price of schools.

Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, asked whether having single-sex physical education classes versus classes for all children made a difference. Elliott said she thought that would have no effect on the quality of a program. She said the main components that are needed are the time for physical education, the certification of teachers and following a standards-based curriculum. But Elliott said single-sex classes make more of a difference in high school.

When Delegate Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, asked if any other states have instituted best practices, Elliott said Colorado is the best example, because it is the most physically active state and has one of the lowest obesity rates. Duke then suggested it would be good to see what Colorado is doing in its schools and what is done in that state to encourage activity outside of school.

Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, said that, when legislators asked a few years ago about the possibility of having physical education during every school day, the Department of Education said it would cost $1.5 million. He indicated he thought that estimate was inflated.

“It’s going to take money, and we have to be willing to step up and say we’re going to pay that price. We’ll either pay it now as an investment to bring the numbers down or we’re going to pay it yearly in the cost of obesity-related issues. So where do we want to invest? I want to invest early and start that trend down versus having to spend the money years from now dealing with obesity-related issues.” – Sen. Erik Wells

“I think it’s really incumbent upon this legislative body to realize that to change the dynamics and change the mindset of bringing a culture of fitness in West Virginia to reduce these numbers is going to take an investment of dollars and a commitment from the Legislature and the governor and our school systems,” Wells said. Parents do need to encourage children to get exercise, but children also can educate their parents, he said.

“It’s so easy to say no or prevent change versus being that person to say, ‘Let’s have change in West Virginia,’” Wells said, adding that fitness is as important as English and math.

“It’s going to take money, and we have to be willing to step up and say we’re going to pay that price,” he said. “We’ll either pay it now as an investment to bring the numbers down or we’re going to pay it yearly in the cost of obesity-related issues. So where do we want to invest? I want to invest early and start that trend down versus having to spend the money years from now dealing with obesity-related issues.




By Jim Wallace

A public hearing held by one legislative committee indicates that a fight is heating up over state requirements for students to be immunized against several diseases before entering school.

Representatives of a few organizations opposed to the requirements argued in favor of exemptions that would allow parents to invoke religious, moral or philosophical grounds for having their children be granted admission to school without the vaccinations. State health officials argued against such exemptions. Many parents attended the hearing with their children in the House of Delegates chamber during the Legislature’s late June interim meetings. The Joint Committee on Health held the hearing.

West Virginia law requires children to be immunized against diphtheria, polio, rubeola, rubella, tetanus and whooping cough unless a reputable physician provides a certificate showing that immunization would be impossible or improper.

Lori Lee, president of the West Virginia chapter of the National Vaccination Information Center, said every parent should have the right to decide whether his or her child should receive immunizations. She cited Vermont as a state with the religious and philosophical exemptions she would like West Virginia to have.

“No family should ever have to choose between their faith and sending their child to public or private school.” – Lori Lee

Lee also claimed that some of the required vaccines contain aborted fetal tissue, which has led her to enroll her children in Ohio schools. “No family should ever have to choose between their faith and sending their child to public or private school,” she said. On that subject, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that “some vaccines such as rubella and varicella [were] made from human cell-line cultures, and some of these cell lines originated from aborted fetal tissue, obtained from legal abortions in the 1960s. No new fetal tissue is needed to produce cell lines to make these vaccines, now or in the future."

Lee shared some of her time at the hearing with Mary Holland of the New York University Law School who said she is pro-vaccine. “But I’m also pro-vaccine choice and parental consent,” she said. “I’m of the opinion that individuals must have the right to prior, free and informed consent to all medical intervention. That is the hallmark of ethical medicine. I don’t believe that even infectious disease risks should cause deviation from that fundamental standard that’s recognized around the world.”

Holland said 48 states permit religious exemptions, and 20 states permit philosophical exemptions. “Is it sound public policy for the state to compel vaccination for children against their parents’ deeply held religious, moral or philosophical beliefs?” she asked. Holland suggested that the state could require unvaccinated kids to stay home during a disease outbreak.

Claudia Raymer and Dr. James Fick, an optometrist, from a group called We the Parents offered similar arguments against West Virginia’s vaccine requirements. Raymer said the way to increase vaccination rates is through education, not mandates. She also suggested that profits for pharmaceutical companies might be behind West Virginia’s requirements.


Commissioner argues against allowing more exemptions.

Dr. Marian Swinker, commissioner of public health, defended the state’s vaccination requirements. “Vaccines save lives,” she said. “On a national level, every year, thousands of deaths are prevented by vaccination. Vaccines prevent illness. Nationally, millions of illnesses that were once common are averted every year. Vaccines reduce health care expenditures. Millions of dollars of health care costs, disability costs and lost productivity are prevented every year by use of just three basic vaccines.”

Swinker said that when vaccination rates decline, the incidents of vaccine-preventable disease increase. “The outbreak threshold begins when about 5 percent of the population is unvaccinated or not immune,” she said. “There is a direct correlation between the rate of nonmedical vaccine exemptions and the occurrence of outbreaks. Those states with the most liberal laws for automatic exemptions have seen the greatest number of outbreaks.” Swinker said Washington and California have had pertussis outbreaks, and both of those states are considering more stringent regulations. She said measles hit a 15-year high nationally last year, and many of the individuals affected were infants who were too young to receive vaccinations.

Although some people argue that “herd immunity” – or having most people in a community vaccinated – will protect unvaccinated people, she said that herd immunity cannot be counted on. “No vaccination is 100 percent effective,” Swinker said, and some people fail to develop immunity even when vaccinated. In addition, she said, there are always people, such as infants and those with certain health conditions, who cannot be immunized.

“Purposely unvaccinated children put everyone’s children at risk. During an outbreak, even those that have been partially immunized or who have been immunized and failed to develop an immunity can and will suffer from disease.” – Dr. Marian Swinker

“Purposely unvaccinated children put everyone’s children at risk,” Swinker said. “During an outbreak, even those that have been partially immunized or who have been immunized and failed to develop an immunity can and will suffer from disease.” She said people who don’t get their children vaccinated depend on those who do to protect their kids.

“West Virginia is ahead of the curve on this,” Swinker said, and the United Health Foundation in 2011 cited a low level of infectious disease as strength of the public health system in West Virginia.

“Measles were briefly eradicated in this country in 2000 but have been reintroduced by global trends,” she said. “Every West Virginia tax dollar spent investigating and to treat vaccine-preventable disease is money unavailable for other purposes, and these are diseases we have the power to avoid.” Swinker added that the courts have upheld West Virginia’s vaccine law in several challenges, and the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear a challenge to its constitutionality.

Dr. Raheel Khan, assistant professor of pediatrics at West Virginia University, also testified in favor of the state’s vaccine requirements. He said he was speaking “on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves” in arguing the state should not let its guard down. Vaccines are the victims of their own success, he said, because only the rare failure or minor side effect makes news.

“Nothing in life is perfectly safe,” Khan said, but the benefits of vaccines far outweigh their risks.


Delegate grills bureau official on agency’s authority.

When legislators had a chance to ask questions, one long exchange occurred when Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, wanted to know where the Bureau for Public Health found authority to make it compulsory for students to have vaccinations to enter school. Ann Goldberg, a lawyer for the bureau, said state law gives the bureau the right to interpret the law.

But Lane read a portion of state code that says, “An interpretive rule may not be relied upon to impose a civil or criminal sanction or to regulate private conduct.” He then asked, “What part of the definition that I just read on the interpretive rule do you feel allows the commissioner of public health, the Bureau of Public Health and/or the school board of any county or the West Virginia Department of Education to deny entry for a student who has not complied with your interpretive rule?”

“We have interpreted state law as authorizing the commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health to make these choices,” Goldberg replied. To that, Lane said, she had given him “180 degrees the wrong answer.”

When Lane pressed further on civil and criminal sanctions in the law, Goldberg said, “Well, there’s never been any civil or criminal sanction of any parent.”

“The students are unable to attend school. That’s a civil sanction, isn’t it? And if there are criminal penalties attached to a parent who does not provide the vaccinations that are required in the interpretive rule, then that’s a criminal sanction isn’t it?” – Delegate Patrick Lane

“The students are unable to attend school,” Lane responded. “That’s a civil sanction, isn’t it? And if there are criminal penalties attached to a parent who does not provide the vaccinations that are required in the interpretive rule, then that’s a criminal sanction isn’t it?”

Goldberg said, “That sanction that some of the speakers have referred to that makes it a misdemeanor for a parent not to have a child immunized has never once ever been brought as a violation or charge for prosecution. No parent has ever had any criminal suggestion, much less complaint, filed against them. It’s not enforced criminally.”

Lane responded that he thought he understood her position.

The hearing was only for senators and delegates to hear the views of people on both sides of the issue. The committee took no action on the testimony.



By Jim Wallace

One day before the PEIA Finance Board meeting, House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, took interest in other changes by PEIA. At the meeting of the Joint Committee on Government and Finance, he wanted to know about changes in copayments for some drugs beginning in July.

PEIA Director Ted Cheatham said there were two major changes. For the active population and pre-65 retirees, the copayments for third-tier drugs increase to 75 percent. The other change was to move other retirees to Humana’s Medicare prescription drug program, which means some second-tier drugs move to third tier and some third-tier drugs move to the second tier. Generally, the higher the tier, the less preferred the drugs are, so the copayments are higher to encourage members to use other, less-expensive drugs instead. Thompson asked whether the changes resulted from a decision made by PEIA or by Express Scripts, the agency’s pharmacy benefits manager. Cheatham told him it was PEIA’s decision.

Thompson then said he had received several complaints from constituents whose doctors have prescribed medication they have had trouble refilling when needed. He wanted to know who decides how soon prescriptions can be refilled.

“Ultimately, all the decisions on policies related to drugs are PEIA’s ultimate decision,” Cheatham said. “We do rely on Express Scripts for their pharmacy and therapeutic committee to help determine which drugs on which tiers and negotiate rebates.”

“Some of these drugs and medicines that people take, if they don’t approve it that particular day, they may die overnight,” Thompson said. “Who is responsible in making those decisions? You say you rely on what Express Scripts says but PEIA makes the decisions.”

“The policy, the rules and how that program is administered is truly the responsibility of the Public Employee Insurance Agency,” Cheatham said. “We delegate to Express Scripts and Rational Drug Therapy up in Morgantown at the school of pharmacy to do all the precertification for that, administer those rules, communicate to the pharmacies on our behalf.”

Thompson then noted that with a 75 percent copayment, the patient pays three-quarters of the cost even with insurance. Cheatham confirmed that and said the PEIA Finance Board made that decision in December, because it is expected to save about $18 million a year.

“We’ve communicated to all people involved in this change,” he said. “We’ve given them alternative pharmacy drugs that are both generic and name-brand that meet the class of those medications. There’s a handful – five or six medications – that we thought for safety purposes – our medical director said, do not make this 75 percent coinsurance for safety reasons.”

Those medications were “grandfathered” at an $85 copayment, Cheatham said. “Our goal is to try to move people to a long-term maintenance drug that’s a generic or preferred brand for the long haul,” he said.

“I guess my concern is Express Scripts dictating patient care and overriding or saying doctors don’t know the best medication to give.” – House Speaker Rick Thompson

Thompson responded, “I guess my concern is Express Scripts dictating patient care and overriding or saying doctors don’t know the best medication to give.”

Cheatham explained that the problem is that doctors get free drugs and visits by pharmaceutical detailers to encourage them to prescribe drugs not on the preferred list. “The issue here is that the doctors who prescribe typically do not realize what the drugs cost,” he said. “They don’t check to see if it’s on the formulary. They don’t check to see if it’s preferred or not.”

PEIA does send notifications to doctors to try to make them aware of how to hold down costs for their patients, he said.

Thompson asked whether drops are handled the same as pills. Cheatham said they are no different. He said the rule is that PEIA members must not get refills until they are scheduled to have used more than 70 percent of their medications.

“It’s to keep people from filling their medicines too soon and either selling them or overusing them or anything like that,” Cheatham said.

Thompson then revealed that his son had an eye infection and had to take drops every hour. He ran out, but the pharmacy said the refill wouldn’t be covered for two more days. Thompson said he just paid for the medication himself, because the illness could cause blindness without medicine. He said he wanted more information about PEIA’s policies.

Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, offered Cheatham some support by noting that PEIA went over the changes and its policies at public hearings and then modified its proposals based on what people said at the hearings. He said members were notified of the changes.



By Jim Wallace

Top leaders in the Legislature want to hear later this month from Jimmy Gianato, director of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, because he is the state official who has been overseeing a project to expand broadband Internet access in West Virginia under a $126.3 million federal grant. They’re concerned about reports that the money from the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program has not been spent wisely.

For example, the Charleston Gazette ran a series of reports that the project had spent $22,600 each on more than 1,000 routers that were much too big for the needs of the schools, libraries and other facilities where they were being installed. At the late June meeting of the Joint Committee on Government and Finance, House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, pressed acting Administration Secretary Ross Taylor for information about that.

“We helped execute the purchasing of them,” Taylor said. “Ultimately, the decision was made by Homeland Security in conjunction with the Office of Technology. It was mainly up to Homeland Security folks what should be purchased.”

Armstead said he was concerned there are some routers that aren’t being used. Taylor replied, “I understand that there are several sitting, ready to be put into various locations.”

“There is some concern that these really aren’t the right equipment for what they’re being used for,” Armstead said. “Did your department help select these or did they express concern about whether these were the right ones to buy?”

“Honestly, sir, I have to check,” Taylor said. “A lot of this predated me in this position. I know that they were purchased, and that I read about it in the newspaper nearly every day. But I’m not confident in saying exactly what role OT played as far as trying to indicate that some of them might not have been the proper purchase. I would have to check into it and get back to you.”

Armstead said he understood that some agencies don’t know what they’re going to do with the oversized routers. “I’m just wondering if we can get some answers about that,” he said. “Do you have a contract? Is that something you have in your department?”

“I think it’s all through the broadband contract, which may have gone partly through us, but it wasn’t one that we truly initiated,” Taylor replied.

“I guess what I’m getting at is if there is any possibility under that contract that any units that haven’t been used will be returned. If there’s any way we can use that money more efficiently, I think we ought to look at that.” – House Minority Leader Tim Armstead

“I guess what I’m getting at is if there is any possibility under that contract that any units that haven’t been used will be returned,” Armstead said. “If there’s any way we can use that money more efficiently, I think we ought to look at that.”

Taylor said he would try to get answers for the committee, but Armstead said he would like someone from Homeland Security, presumably Gianato, to appear before the committee at its late July meeting. Other members of the committee, which consists of top leaders from both parties and both the House of Delegates and the Senate, agreed to that request.




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- Compiled by Christine Galusha, Office of Communications, W. Va. Department of Education. Used by Permission WVDE Office of Communications.