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February 7 2020 - Volume 40 Issue 5

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Charleston, W. Va. – West Virginia State Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Steven L. Paine announced Wednesday that he will retire from his position effective June 30, 2020, or before if the State Board finds a suitable replacement prior to June 30, to care for a family member who is experiencing significant health issues, and to spend more time with his children and grandchild.

“After months of consideration and heartfelt discussion with my family, I have decided to retire my position as the State Superintendent of West Virginia.” Paine said, “It has been an honor and my privilege to serve this state, the Governor, and the students of West Virginia. Unfortunately, a member of my family is facing a health crisis and I want to be fully present for my family. I have grown children, one grandchild who I adore, and hopes for more grandchildren in the future. It is time for me to dedicate myself to spending time with my family.”

“After months of consideration and heartfelt discussion with my family, I have decided to retire my position as the State Superintendent of West Virginia. It has been an honor and my privilege to serve this state, the Governor, and the students of West Virginia. Unfortunately, a member of my family is facing a health crisis and I want to be fully present for my family.” – State Superintendent Steve Paine.

Dr. Paine joined the West Virginia Department of Education in 2003 as deputy state superintendent of schools after serving as the superintendent of Morgan County Schools. Paine is West Virginia’s 31st Superintendent of Schools. He returned to that position in March 2017, after previously serving in the same capacity from 2005-2011. Under his leadership, West Virginia has been nationally recognized for its early childhood programs, child nutrition efforts, graduation rates and career technical education programs.

Paine’s vision for developing the next generation of educational leaders and preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s workforce have included key priorities to increase student achievement and utilize data to inform school improvement.

“It is with regret that I accept Dr. Paine’s resignation,” said State Board of Education President Dave Perry. “Dr. Paine has provided impeccable leadership to the state’s education system and his leadership will be deeply missed. Under his direction, the department has implemented an aggressive plan to improve mathematics achievement, enhance curriculum, establish an accountability system, create a system to develop principal leadership and taken bold steps to address the social emotional needs of students.”

“It is with regret that I accept Dr. Paine’s resignation. Dr. Paine has provided impeccable leadership to the state’s education system and his leadership will be deeply missed.” - said State Board of Education President Dave Perry

In making this announcement now, the State Board of Education will move expeditiously to find a new superintendent to continue the vision of the West Virginia Board of Education and West Virginia Department of Education jointly to provide an effective and quality system for learning that supports and empowers West Virginia students. Paine plans to work during his final days to carry out his core mission to establish policies and procedures to assure implementation of West Virginia’s public education goals and to ensure the supervision, oversight and monitoring of a thorough, efficient and effective system of free public schools.

For more information, contact West Virginia Department of Education Office of Communication Office of Communications / 304-558-2699

CHARLESTON, WV – Gov. Jim Justice issued the following statement today after learning of the retirement of West Virginia State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steve Paine.

“We have so many incredible educators across our great state, but you won’t find many people who care more about our students and who have dedicated more of their heart and soul to improving West Virginia’s education system than Dr. Paine.

"During his time in my administration, Dr. Paine has worked tirelessly to build a solid foundation for our students through early childhood programs and child nutrition efforts and he has been a champion of improving achievement in West Virginia through his focus on graduation rates and career technical education programs. Under his visionary leadership, our graduating students are better-positioned than ever to thrive in higher education or once they join the workforce. At the same time, we are developing the educators of tomorrow – who I truly believe are some of the best, most passionate teachers anywhere in the country.

"Dr. Paine has been a great friend and has gone above and beyond to help the greatest treasure we have in West Virginia: our young people. I thank Dr. Paine for his long-standing and meaningful service to the State of West Virginia, all of our students, and our great teachers, administrators, and service personnel. He will be greatly missed.

"In the coming days, I intend to encourage Dr. Paine to take a leave of absence instead of retiring, simply because of the truly incredible job he has done…” – Gov. Jim Justice

"In the coming days, I intend to encourage Dr. Paine to take a leave of absence instead of retiring, simply because of the truly incredible job he has done. However, if he does choose to go through with retirement, Cathy and I will fully support his desire to be there for his loved ones as a family member deals with health issues. Cathy and I are keeping the entire Paine family in our prayers during this difficult time."

For more information, contact Jordan Damron jordan.l.damron@wv.gov

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By Jim Wallace

The West Virginia Senate is on track to pass by Monday a bill that would allow home-schooled students and students who attend religious or other private schools that are not members of the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission to participate in SSAC sports and other extracurricular activities. Senate Bill 131 was scheduled today for the second of three required readings on the Senate floor after receiving approval earlier this week from the Senate Education Committee in a meeting that lasted about two hours and 40 minutes.

The bill has been labeled the “Tim Tebow Act” after a former home-schooled student who went on to become a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at the University of Florida and helped 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 veto it.

Although most Senate Education Committee members supported the bill, they heard from an SSAC official and others who are afraid of what the consequences of it might be. Bernie Dolan, executive director of SSAC, said his organization has worked hard to accommodate home-schooled students by allowing them to participate in activities if they take at least four virtual courses offered through the public school system.

“My hope is that we have one rule book that everybody follows. I don’t want a rule book for member schools and a rule book for home school or non-member schools.” – Bernie Dolan

“My hope is that we have one rule book that everybody follows,” he said. “I don’t want a rule book for member schools and a rule book for home school or non-member schools.”

Dolan said 255 home-schooled students now take enough virtual school classes offered by West Virginia school districts to make them eligible to participate in SSAC activities. Others are taking some of the 14,000 virtual courses offered by the state Department of Education, he said, although he didn’t know how many students qualify for SSAC activities by doing that.

However, Dolan said, he opposes allowing students from private schools to participate in public school sports because that would give more rights to schools that aren’t members of the SSAC than to those that are member schools.

“When you go to Charleston Catholic, you know they don’t have a football team, but Charleston Catholic students don’t get to go play football anywhere else,” he said. “So we have a real objection to somebody choosing another school but still getting to participate.”

Giving another analogy, Dolan said only 40 of the 125 member schools compete in swimming, and the students at the other 85 members don’t get to participate in that sport. He noted that the rules have been made by the principals of the member schools.

Virtual school has given home-schooled students the option to participate, but it’s not perfect, he said, and the SSAC has more work to do on that. However, he said, rules are all over the place in other states.

Because home-schooled students aren’t graded the same way as public school students, the bill would have them submit portfolios that would be evaluated by school officials, but Dolan said could be difficult for public school teachers or administrators to do. “I do think it’s going to open up some issues to argument as to what that really is,” he said.

Also, while public school students must maintain grade-point averages of at least 2.0, the bill would establish the equivalent for home-schooled students to place in the 25th percentile on a nationally normed test. But Dolan said he didn’t know whether that would equate to a 2.0 grade-point average.

Another problem he pointed out was that home-schooled students or private school students would be judged on their behavior only during games, while public school students would be judged on their behavior throughout the school day. When Sen. Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh, challenged him on that, Dolan said, “If a kid gets in a fight or there’s discipline at a non-member school, what obligation do they have to tell the school that that kid’s playing for that there’s an issue? None. They can’t stop him from going. Right?”

“There’s a discipline realm in home schools and private schools that the public school doesn’t even understand. There’s a higher standard of discipline actually.” – Sen. Rollan Roberts

“Actually, you have that all the time,” Roberts, who is an administrator at Victory Baptist Academy, a private school, said. “We call it grounding. Parents ground their children. I have it in our private school. Parents will say, ‘My child’s been misbehaving. He’s eligible as far as you’re concerned, but not as far as we’re concerned, and my child is going to sit out for this next game.’ There’s a discipline realm in home schools and private schools that the public school doesn’t even understand. There’s a higher standard of discipline actually.”

But, Dolan said, there is no obligation for private schools or home-schooling parents to report such situations to the public schools. To that, Roberts responded, “So you’re saying that that is a factor that we should then not allow any student to become a Tebow student just because there might be a possible scenario that is kind of far out there.”

Dolan replied, “If you’ve been around athletics for a long time, every possible thing comes up because people will do anything for athletics.”

Longtime coach worries about bill’s effects.

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said he coached for about 20 years, and he could see many problems in the bill. He said allowing home-schooled students to take virtual courses is a concession already made to them. He said people have to make choices, and one choice for parents who want their children to play sports is to send them to public school. Further, he said, not all home-schooled students receive good educations, and he cited the case of one 11-year-old in Mercer County who was home-schooled and then sent to public school, where he was found to be on a first-grade level.

“That’s the child I’m worried about,” Lee said. He also worries about public school students who are absent or not achieving at their grade levels. That’s why the SSAC has rules about attendance and grades, he said.

“Let these kids just have fun and play,” Roberts told him. “I think it’s a double standard that virtual school students don’t do all of those other things that the day-to-day students do, but now all of a sudden, the criticism is that private school students, they don’t meet it, so we don’t want them.”

“It’s not that I’m against the kids. It’s I don’t know how you make it fair and equitable.” – Dale Lee

“It’s not that I’m against the kids,” Lee said. “It’s I don’t know how you make it fair and equitable.”

Roberts responded, “I think the bill takes a giant step forward in doing that, and I think we’ll just have to be on opposite sides of this one.”

“I think we will,” Lee said.

Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, noted that some areas of the state don’t have broadband service, so they can’t do the virtual school. But, Lee countered, they still have the option of going to public school. Rucker then suggested that sports participation might entice some students to go to public schools.

Home-schooling parent offers different view.

Jamie Buckland, a home-schooling mother for 13 years, said she had heard many arguments about the bill but not many relevant arguments. She said the discussion should be more about the students the bill would help rather than just listening to fears and concerns.

“I have not heard a lot of questions in regards to what is the difference between a virtual school student and a home-schooled student,” she said. “There are more ways to measure a student than a GPA.”

Legislation like Senate Bill 131 already has become law in 24 other states, Buckland said.

But Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said he saw the potential for “athlete-shopping” if the bill would become law.

Before the committee voted on Senate Bill 131, its sponsor, Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said this is the sixth straight year he has put his name on a Tebow bill.

“I’m deeply committed to this bill,” he said. “Whenever I hear opponents of the bill, the arguments always sound to me to be rationalizations about why it’s fair to exclude kids from doing something, and I think it’s the wrong perspective. I think we ought to look for opportunities to include kids in all things that are wholesome, beneficial, educational and productive. We ought to look for ways to expand those opportunities for all children of West Virginia, not just those who are enrolled in public schools.”

Trump said public schools are funded with public dollars from three main sources – property taxes, other tax-generated funds from the state general revenue fund, and federal funds – all of which home-schooling families contribute to with their tax payments.

Athletics shouldn’t be treated different from other educational opportunities, he said. If a home-school family wants to send a child to public school for one or more classes, the family is allowed to do that even if the child is not enrolled fulltime, Trump said, so athletics shouldn’t be treated differently.

“More lessons that are important for life are learned participating in team sports than in many other subjects that are taught in the regular curriculum. We must not treat the opportunity to participate in those activities and learn those lessons as a goodie that only gets extended to people who are enrolled fulltime in the public school system. They should be available to everyone.” – Sen. Charles Trump

“More lessons that are important for life are learned participating in team sports than in many other subjects that are taught in the regular curriculum,” he said. “We must not treat the opportunity to participate in those activities and learn those lessons as a goodie that only gets extended to people who are enrolled fulltime in the public school system. They should be available to everyone.”

Public dollars pay for the salaries of the coaches and for the buses and gasoline to take students to and from events, Trump said, so he wants to talk about the best way to include every child in every opportunity, which is what the bill does.

“I think it’s a question of equal protection of the law,” he said.

Romano said he agreed with Trump in regard to home-schooled children but said the issue with private and parochial school children is different.

“I think we risk upsetting the system for all the kids who take advantage of athletics and receive the lessons that are learned through athletics by participating in them. I’m willing to take that risk for home-schooled children because, again, I think parents are making a different decision than to send them to Notre Dame or Charleston Catholic.” – Sen. Mike Romano

“I think we risk upsetting the system for all the kids who take advantage of athletics and receive the lessons that are learned through athletics by participating in them,” Romano said. “I’m willing to take that risk for home-schooled children because, again, I think parents are making a different decision than to send them to Notre Dame or Charleston Catholic.”

On the other side, however, Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, argued that parents are paying taxes already to keep the public school system going. But he said, the question is: who is sovereign over the children?

“I take umbrage over anybody that steps their foot into the circle of my God-given sovereignty over my kids,” he said. “We shouldn’t be having to beg the state of West Virginia to let us play.”

Azinger concluded, “This is a great bill. This is freedom.”

“I agree,” Romano said, “And we all agree that home-schooled children should have this opportunity, and I think it’s a good experiment to see if we’re able to integrate children who don’t actually go to school into athletic programs for those schools. I think we risk an unnecessary complication by including folks that you all didn’t mention, which are the private and parochial schools, which are non-members of the WVSSAC. Maybe if it works out well for the home-schooled children, we can think about adding them at a later time, if we can work out the logistics of it.”

Romano proposed an amendment to remove provisions for private and parochial schools that are not members of the SSAC from the bill. Keeping them in would risk the possibility the bill would die in the House, he said. The education system is underfunded, and this would be an additional burden, he added.

Roberts opposed the amendment saying it’s wrong to distinguish between home-schooled students and private school students.

The amendment failed. Then the committee passed Senate Bill 131, sending the bill to the full Senate, which could pass it as soon as Monday. Last year, the House of Delegates voted 52 to 46 to reject the Tebow bill.

By Jim Wallace

The West Virginia Senate has approved a bill that would eliminate the permit requirement for storing of a concealed handgun in a vehicle on school property for persons over 21. Senate Bill 482 now has gone to the House of Delegates.

“Under current law, a person with a concealed weapon permit is allowed to store or keep a weapon in his vehicle on school property as long as it’s locked and out of sight, not visible,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, told his colleagues before the Senate voted. “This bill would change the law to allow that opportunity to every person that is at least 21 years of age and who is not prohibited by state or federal law from possessing a firearm.”

“What we’re doing here is saying that anyone who has no training and no background check done can also take their gun on school property. And while hopefully nothing bad will ever come of this, I think it’s a bad direction to go, and I would urge a no vote.” – Sen. Corey Palumbo

One senator spoke against the bill. “What we’re doing here is saying that people with no background check and no training can now bring guns on school property, and I know that we’ve already allowed people with concealed carry permits to do this,” Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, said. “I think some of my friends that are proponents of this bill remind me that I supported that bill to allow people with concealed carry permits to have guns in their cars on school property. But what we’re doing here is saying that anyone who has no training and no background check done can also take their gun on school property. And while hopefully nothing bad will ever come of this, I think it’s a bad direction to go, and I would urge a no vote.”

Trump responded, “A couple years ago, this legislature gave life to the constitutional right recognized in both the West Virginia Constitution and the federal Constitution under the Second Amendment to possess and bear arms. We passed a law that said if a person is 21 years of age, is not prohibited by federal law or state law from owning or possessing a firearm, he or she can carry a gun concealed in this state without a permit.”

Noting that there are limitations on some people that prevent them from carrying firearms because of various problems, such as criminal violations, Trump said the new bill just would allow people who are allowed to carry guns to drive with them onto a school parking lot.

“This is not going to allow any guns into school buildings or outside of a vehicle,” he said. “But if you have a gun in your vehicle and it’s locked and concealed, hidden from view, and you have the lawful right to be in possession of that gun, then it’s not a crime to have your car in the parking lot of a school.”

The Senate approved the bill on a vote of 33 to one with Palumbo as the lone vote against it.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee has approved House Bill 2719 to establish a Bus Operator in Residence program to assist school districts with inadequate substitute bus operator pools.

Dave Mohr, senior policy analyst for the committee, explained that several school districts have adopted training programs for bus drivers, but one ran into a few problems. He said a revised version of the bill, which the committee approved, would give them more flexibility. They basically just would have to put together a program, say how they are going to do it, say whether they will pay operators stipends while they are in the program or reimburse them later, and say whether the individuals would be obligated to work for the districts in the end.

Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, said her home county has trouble hiring drivers because anyone with a commercial driver’s license can make so much in the natural gas industry.

The bill now goes to the House Finance Committee for further consideration.

By Jim Wallace

A bill that would create what’s called the West Virginia Student Religious Liberties Act is set up to pass in the House of Delegates as early as Tuesday. The House Education Committee approved House Bill 4069 this week despite misgivings by several members after attorneys said much of the bill’s provisions already are guaranteed by federal law, while other provisions would go well beyond federal law in imposing new requirements on public schools.

Melissa White, an attorney for the committee, said the bill’s requirements 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.
  • A school district would be required to adopt a policy similar to the model policy set forth in the bill.

The model policy would protect students’ rights to assemble for prayer groups, religious clubs or other gatherings. It would ensure the student would have equal rights to school facilities to the extent that other, nonreligious groups are permitted to advertise or announce events. And it would assure students’ rights to wear religious clothing and memorabilia.

Also, the model policy would provide guidelines for student speakers. 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.

The bill also states that nothing in it would interfere with traditional speeches made by others in positions of honor. 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.

Further, the bill says it couldn’t be construed to require any persons to participate in any religious activity or violate a person’s constitutional rights. Nor should it be construed to limit schools’ authority to maintain order and discipline in a neutral manner, protect the safety of students, employees or visitors, or adopt policies of procedures consistent with law.

When asked if religious freedom in classroom assignments already is protected under the First Amendment, White said it is. When asked if students already are allowed to pray or gather before and after school, she said they are as long as those activities are led by students.

When asked if the bill would protect nonreligious students, White said, “All people are protected under the First Amendment. A lot of this language is already federal law.”

Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, expressed support for the bill. He said he is aware of circumstances in his local schools in which specific groups have been allowed to set up tables in hallways to hand out literature to promote their groups. “If a religious group wanted to do the exact same thing only promoting their religious beliefs or expressing their religious beliefs, they’re required to be in a room with a closed door,” he said. When he asked if the bill would change that situation, White said it would add more clarity.

On January 16, the federal government released guidance to clarify such issues and specify what’s not allowed in schools, she said. Also, since October 1, local agencies are required to report to federal agencies if they have any policies adverse to religious liberties, she said. The federal policy is consistent with portions of House Bill 4069, White said, but some provisions of the bill are more prescriptive.

The wording of the bill was taken from a Mississippi law, she said.

Heather Hutchins, general counsel for Department of Education, said the document released January 16 from the federal government is updated guidance that goes through various scenarios that schools could face.

“Portions of this bill do mirror the things that are already in federal law that are parsed out and discussed in the recently issued guidance document,” she said. “The portion of the bill that appears different to me is that it does contain a model policy, which is something that I’m not familiar with seeing in legislation.”

Hutchins said the bill would require districts to adopt policies that are not required under federal law. “The counties simply have to certify each year that they are following federal law,” she said about current requirements. “So this model law is going to place on counties the onus of developing a policy and hashing out to some degree each of the issues here. So I think that it reaches beyond the federal law in requiring that policy.”

Also, the bill would require districts’ policy to be substantially similar to the model policy, she said, so there could be some questions on how similar it must be.

“When the language says that it must be substantially similar, I’m not sure how far the legislation means that to go,” Hutchins said.

Proposed amendments fail.

The committee rejected a few amendments proposed by Democrats. One would have made the language of the bill permissive rather than instructive. Another would have made the bill less restrictive to allow more students the opportunity to speak at school events.

The committee’s vice chairman, Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam, spoke against the second amendment, saying more clarity is needed in the law. “This is all just a framework to help the counties determine their own policies,” he said. “So all this is simply suggesting that Putnam County, Cabell County, Randolph County perform within these parameters. So it simply is a framework.”

But Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said, “Actually, for that very reason, I would argue in favor of the amendment. If this is designed to be a framework, it should not, in my view, be as prescriptive as this paragraph is.”

“I do not think it is the state of West Virginia’s job, the legislature or anyone else beside the school district or the school to decide who gets to speak at these events.” – Delegate Cody Thompson

Likewise, Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, said he supported the amendment. “I do not think it is the state of West Virginia’s job, the legislature or anyone else beside the school district or the school to decide who gets to speak at these events,” he said.

Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell, also supported changing the wording of the bill. “It says, without limitation, valedictorians would have speaking roles at graduations,” he said. “Many schools have gone away from a valedictorian system.”

Evans also had issues with drawing names to choose speakers. “In many systems, the students decide who they want to be the speakers,” he said. “This is prescriptive, and frankly, it’s wrong.”

But Butler pointed out that the bill’s language would allow any student with some sort of distinction to speak, so he opposed the amendment. Evans responded that selecting such students would be subjective, and he wondered who would make such decisions.

Delegate Amanda Estep-Burton said she supported the amendment. “I see the potential for discrimination against religious minorities,” she said. “For instance, the best football player may be a Jewish child, and the Christian coach holds his religion against him, so he might not appoint him as the captain of the football team.

The amendment failed when 10 delegates voted for it and 12 voted against it.

A third amendment came from Delegate Lisa Zukof, D-Marshall. She wanted to strike language requiring districts to adopt local policies because it would add bureaucracy.

“We want to talk about local control all the time,” said. “I think we’d be much better served to have the Department of Education send out the guidelines that were received from the federal government…and allow them to make that decision by what’s going on in their own districts.”

“This, to me, is not about religion; this is about being bureaucratic and over-prescriptive to our local school boards.” – Delegate Lisa Zukoff

Zukoff added, “This, to me, is not about religion; this is about being bureaucratic and over-prescriptive to our local school boards.”

Higginbotham opposed her amendment, saying, “I do believe that this undermines the role of the bill and the policy that it’s aimed at implementing.”

The committee then rejected that final amendment.

Before the committee voted on the bill, four members argued against it and one argued in favor of it.

“I think this is simply just an overreach of government into education, particularly the part where we can try to dictate at the legislature of who and who cannot speak at graduations or events at that nature,” Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, said in opposition to the bill. “We talk about local control and yet now we are going to have to put disclaimers into our graduation programs for this reason.”

Similarly, Doyle said, “I regard it as overly prescriptive and exceptionally confusing.”

Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, said he had to oppose the bill regretfully. “Who says what’s offensive?” he asked and suggested President Trump wouldn’t even be able to speak under the language of the bill.

Also opposed to the bill, Evans said, “I cannot believe we are going to make school systems print a disclaimer in the programs for graduation because someone sitting in the audience might not agree with what the person says.” He added that the Boy Scouts of America had to issue a disclaimer when Trump spoke at the Scouts’ Jamboree in West Virginia a few years ago.

“I do think that some school districts have been asking for some type of guidance on how they can approach these subjects.” – Delegate Mark Dean

On the other side, Delegate Mark Dean, R-Mingo, said he supported the bill. “I do have some concerns with some of the prescriptive nature that I see as defining who the speakers of different events can be,” he said. “I do think that some school districts have been asking for some type of guidance on how they can approach these subjects.”

The House Education Committee approved House Bill 4069 on a vote of 14 to eight. It was scheduled for the first of three required readings on the House floor today, meaning the House could pass it as early as Tuesday if it stays on track.

By Jim Wallace

A bill to help school districts hire teachers in areas of critical need is moving through the House of Delegates.

House Bill 4691 received approval from the House Education Committee early in the week.

Dave Mohr, senior policy analyst for the committee, said it came about after a delegate approached him last fall to ask why school districts couldn’t recruit students coming out of teaching colleges months ahead of when they would be needed and then assign them when specific vacancies become available. He pointed the delegate to language in state code that would permit such hiring, but he noted that it has been used rarely in the 15 years it has been in law. The notable exception, he said, is the Berkeley County school system, which has used the provision frequently.

The bill is designed to make that provision in law clearer and easier to understand in the hope that school officials would use it more often.

House Bill 4691 was scheduled to receive the second of three required readings on the House floor Thursday, but that was delayed until today. If the bill faces no further delays, it could pass in the House as early as Monday.

By Jim Wallace

A bill intended to make school zones safer for children outside of regular school hours is headed to the House Education Committee after getting approval from the House Technology and Infrastructure Committee this week.

As originally drafted, House Bill 2897 would have required the activation of school zone flashing beacons whenever students are present at school for activities occurring outside of a school’s regular hours of operation. But legislators learned that there is no uniform way to control those lights in jurisdictions across the state, so it would have been virtually impossible to implement the bill as originally written.

Instead, the Technology and Infrastructure Committee changed the language to provide that a 15-miles-per-hour speed limit would be required whenever school zone flashing beacons are activated, even outside of normal school opening and closing hours.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, said he proposed it after a little boy was hit near Beverly Elementary School in his district while going to a Halloween party. The school’s principal requested from the Department of Transportation a key to unlock the box for the control panel for the lights, so that, during after-school events and when the school has delayed starts and early dismissals, the principal can turn on the lights.

The committee spent quite some time trying to work out the wording of the bill, but in the end, members approved it without dissent.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate Education Committee approved a bill late Thursday afternoon that would allow schools to have elective courses on Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament of the Bible or the New Testament of the Bible. As it originally was drafted, Senate Bill 38 would have required all schools to offer such courses. The bill is similar to one the committee considered a couple of years ago.

The committee spent a long time hearing from William Jeynes, a professor of education at California State University at Long Beach, who said he has conducted research that shows knowledge of the Bible can raise a student’s grades by a full point.

A few senators raised questions about the constitutionality of the bill and whether it would lead some schools to go too far in teaching religion. But Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said that shouldn’t be a problem. “I think that this is a good bill that addresses any potential issues, like there might be preaching or proselytizing,” she said.

Sarah Stewart, a legislative liaison for the Education Department, and Joey Wiseman, executive director of the Office of Middle and Secondary Learning, said schools already have courses that study world religions. “Each county knows what the needs are of their county, what the culture is of their county, what will be accepted and what wouldn’t,” Wiseman said.

However, Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, expressed concern that the bill mentions texts only for the Jewish and Christian religions. He proposed an amendment to allow students to study scholarly writings from all religions.

“I’m not fond of this bill. I’m not against this bill. I think it violates the Constitution. I think it could be construed to violate the Constitution in that it limits the electives to really two particular religions.” – Sen. Mike Romano

“I’m not fond of this bill,” Romano said. “I’m not against this bill. I think it violates the Constitution. I think it could be construed to violate the Constitution in that it limits the electives to really two particular religions.”

Arguing for a provision to allow an elective for all other world religions, he said, “That would give you a better chance of passing constitutional muster. I’m concerned about who’s teaching it in something beyond a historical context, which I think a good history teacher could probably do with a good text.”

But the bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, said the amendment wasn’t needed because world religions already are taught.

“This isn’t brand new. Kentucky passed this law that was even more broad three or four years ago. There’s 14 states that teach the Bible to some extent…with very few issues of any problems at all. And keep in mind, the Bible was taught in America for 300 years until 1962 or ’63.” – Sen. Mike Azinger

“This isn’t brand new,” he said. “Kentucky passed this law that was even more broad three or four years ago. There’s 14 states that teach the Bible to some extent…with very few issues of any problems at all. And keep in mind, the Bible was taught in America for 300 years until 1962 or ’63.”

Before he cut off debate by refusing to answer more questions from Romano, Azinger said he thought the amendment would make the bill moot.

To that, Romano responded, “If you think that adding the elective for a board of education to choose to maybe teach a combination of religions moots this bill, then your goal is to teach one specific religion. Your goal is to absolutely be disingenuous about this bill and discriminate against all other religions except the ones that you have noted in this bill. And that’s wrong. That’s a violation of the Constitution.”

Romano said he has great faith in his Catholic religion but doesn’t believe it ever should be forced on anybody. He also wondered how schools would get teachers qualified to teach the propose courses.

The committee rejected the proposed amendment. That didn’t stop complaints against the bill.

Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, said, “I’ve asked the question and have not received an answer: Who wants this? If there’s anybody here who can tell me who wants this, I’d love to hear it. So far, I haven’t heard anybody who wants this.” He is both a pastor and a former member of his county school board.

Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, said, “This is not the answer to the problems we have in the state of West Virginia. We have societal issues here that this is not necessarily going to address…. We have issues with an opioid crisis that just puts us at a complex crossroads right now that we ourselves don’t know how to handle it. And you believe this is going to increase the GPA by one percent? I’m sorry, you are wrong.”

Despite that opposition, the committee approved the bill and sent it to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates has approved House Bill 4378, which would authorize the state school superintendent to discipline or revoke the teaching certificate of any teacher found to have committed sexual misconduct involving a student, minor or individual who was a student in the preceding 24 months.

“This bill also authorizes the state superintendent to issue subpoenas to obtain testimony and documents to aid in the investigation of any allegations against any persons subject to licensure by the state superintendent,” House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, told his fellow delegates. “It also requires teachers and any person issued a license by the state superintendent to maintain a professional relationship with all students at all times both in and out of the classroom. It also lists offenses which a teacher found to committed shall have his or her license revoked to not less than for five years.”

The House voted 98 to zero to approve the bill and send it to the Senate.

By Jim Wallace

A bill that would require the state school board to provide for the routine education of all professional educators, including principals and administrators, as well as service personnel having direct contact with students, on warning signs and resources to assist in suicide prevention has cleared its second committee in the Senate.

Senate Bill 230 states that the legislature recognizes West Virginia has one of the highest rates of suicide in the nation and that suicide rates nationwide among adolescents and young adults are rising. It also states the risk of suicide among West Virginia students might be increased because of “disrupted families, poverty, and the opioid crises.”

Sarah Stewart, legislative liaison for the Department of Education, called it a “cleanup bill.” She said the language was already in state code until a few years ago, when it was inadvertently removed in House Bill 4006 that eliminated the Department of Education and the Arts.

The Senate Education Committee approved the bill Thursday afternoon. It previously received the approval of the Senate Select Committee on Children and Families. It now goes to the full Senate.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee has approved a bill to require the teaching of certain historical documents in public, private and parochial schools in West Virginia.

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 and the Constitution of West Virginia, and their original context. It also would provide guidelines on teaching of humanity.

When one delegate wondered if the state could require private and parochial schools to teach certain things, Dave Mohr, the committee’s senior policy analyst, said the state already requires those schools to have certain history courses. “This just adds more specificity about what is in those courses,” he said.

Sarah Stewart, legislative liaison for the Education Department, said the documents are already in the content standards for public schools. She said the private and parochial schools have to get some state approval, but that doesn’t mean getting into the details of all their standards.

“They are currently required to teach, for example, West Virginia history,” she said. “We do not have a mechanism to make sure they are.”

The committee adopted an amendment from Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, to include the Emancipation Proclamation, and one from Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, to insert another reference to the Federalist Papers.

We’ve got a whole generation of kids in our public school system today that cannot read or write in cursive, and the original documents of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence are written in cursive. Now, how in the world are we going to teach these kids the original documents?” – Delegate John Kelly

“I think this is a great bill,” Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, said, but he also expressed concern. “We’ve got a whole generation of kids in our public school system today that cannot read or write in cursive, and the original documents of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence are written in cursive. Now, how in the world are we going to teach these kids the original documents?”

House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, pointed out that the bill just calls for the original context of the documents to be taught, not necessarily the original way they were written. The committee previously passed a bill about requiring cursive writing to be taught in elementary schools.

Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, expressed concern that the bill calls for the teaching of documents that already are in the state’s content standards. “If we’re concerned that this isn’t clear enough already and it’s not being taught at the appropriate level that we’re satisfied with, what can we do to make sure that this is being taught properly if it’s already in the content standards?” she asked. “It’s already in state code.”

But Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, said he worried about what could happen in the future. “When the standards change, the founding documents could be left out of the next iteration of standards if we don’t have something to say these definitely have to be in there,” he said.

The committee approved House Bill 4398 and sent it to the full House of Delegates.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee created a bill this week that could lead to having more nurses in public schools.

As originally written, House Bill 4735 would have required each school to employ one school nurse or licensed practical nurse beginning in school year 2021-2022, but the bill includes no funding mechanism. By state code, school nurses must be registered nurses.

At the state’s 687 public schools, 331 nurses are employed. Although that would indicate another 356 are needed, committee members talked about needing either 355.5 or 355 more. The cost was estimated at $23.8 million, but if schools would use some of their unallocated Step 5 money from the School Aid Formula, the cost could be reduced to about $10 million.

Current law requires one nurse for every 1,500 students in grades kindergarten through seven. The bill would require either an RN or an LPN at each school.

House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said he has received many requests to have a nurse in each school. If all LPNs would be used to fill the positions, the cost would be $10 million, he said, but if available Step 5 money were used, the cost would go down to $3.9 million.

“That doesn’t mean we’re going to get 355 LPNs and RNs to fill positions because we have a problem with getting enough manpower to fill positions.” – Delegate Joe Ellington

“That doesn’t mean we’re going to get 355 LPNs and RNs to fill positions because we have a problem with getting enough manpower to fill positions,” Ellington said. The House Finance Committee would have to appropriate money he said.

Brenda Isaac, lead school nurse in Kanawha County, said, “In most districts, it could probably be implemented by the ’21-’22 [school year]. We might have to have a waiver for some of the districts that have a hard time hiring.”

School nurses not only must have four-year nursing degrees but also additional school work to be certified for working in schools, she said, and it would take time to get those in place.

Kanawha County has 64 schools and 36 school nurses, she said. The district doesn’t have any additional money left from the funding for wrap-around services the legislature provided last year, she said.

After learning that some schools already hire LPNs, a few delegates wondered if they could be counted toward the bill’s goal. But Isaac said that, although many school systems hire LPNs to function as aides, they are tied up in the classrooms and not available for other nursing duties. By their training, LPNs cannot make independent nursing assessments and must be supervised by RNs, she said, but there is no ratio for how many LPNs can be supervised by an RN. She said officials would have to work to come up with a safe ratio.

Isaac said she has one nurse who covers three schools in a rural area. “His monthly travel is well over $200 because he has students at those schools that have procedures that have to be done by a nurse every day, so he is wasting a lot of professional time in a car,” she said.

School nurses handle quite a bit of mental health needs in addition to physical health needs, Isaac said. They are getting students with higher and higher acuities, she said. For example, she said, some schools with pre-school students have four-year-olds who require oxygen and others who are diabetics requiring insulin. There are students in every grade with issues, including tube feedings and other needs requiring specialized treatment, she said. Nurses now are being trained to carry naloxone for students or adults who need it, she said.

Nurses are paid on the same scale as teachers, Isaac said, and she sometimes loses them to higher-paying jobs.

Ellington said West Virginia schools currently employ a total of 450.53 nurses. That includes 331.5 registered nurses and 119 LPNs.

Asked about Kanawha County’s largest and smallest schools, Isaac said the largest school is Riverside High School with a bit more than 1,300 students, while a few schools have fewer than 200 students. Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, asked if it would it make more sense to have two nurses in the very large schools and have smaller schools share nurses. Issac said that might work in some places. Some counties have some very small schools, she said, but if a school gets a couple of students with very serious health issues, it needs a nurse there. The districts should have some flexibility in using nurses, she said.

When a student needs insulin, only a school nurse can administer it, Isaac said, although some older students in middle school and high school can administer it themselves. However, some rebel against that and cause the schools many problems, she said. Kanawha County has about 120 students with Type I diabetes and a few more with Type II, she said.

The committee adopted an amendment that would make the bill’s provisions subject to funds appropriated by the legislature.

“I think this will put a lot of county superintendents’ minds at ease, knowing that they’re not going to have to go back and remove services that they’ve already started in their schools, and lots of those would be mental health services.” – Delegate Mark Dean

“I think this is the safest way to do this,” Delegate Mark Dean, R-Mingo, said. “Our counties were given the flexibility to spend their funds how they felt they should, and most counties have already done that, except for maybe $10 million statewide. I think this will put a lot of county superintendents’ minds at ease, knowing that they’re not going to have to go back and remove services that they’ve already started in their schools, and lots of those would be mental health services.”

The bill seemed to enjoy strong support from committee members.

“We got a growing need here, and funding seems to be a real issue,” Delegate Martin Atkinson, R-Roane, said. “As far as psychologists go in our school system, we’re 245 people short.”

“I think we don’t want to neglect the mental and behavioral health and social issues, as well.” – Delegate Martin Atkinson

The schools are also short 524 social workers, he said. “I think we don’t want to neglect the mental and behavioral health and social issues, as well,” Atkinson said. The emotional state of children day to day is very important, he said, and he would favor coming up with more money for those programs if money can be found.

Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, said, “I’m 110 percent for this bill, but I think we also need to be looking at where you get the most ROI – return on your investment – with those dollars, and I do think that the social and behavioral health is very important.”

But Butler put a bit of a damper on the enthusiasm over the bill. “I think that every child should have a nurse, and I think typically that should be the child’s mom, and I think we need to be very careful that this could be $23 million [or] it could be $3 million,” he said. “As we allocate money here, we’re taking a little bit out of the pockets of everybody back home.”

Butler added, “I think the people in our state are dying the death of a thousand cuts.”

The committee approved the bill and sent it to the House Finance Committee.

By Jim Wallace

Late Thursday, the House Education Committee originated a bill to broaden information to be communicated to middle school students about the knowledge, education and career skills needed for certain occupations and entrepreneurship in a changing world of work. Beginning in 2022-2023, school boards would have to provide elective career-technical education courses that could include foundational CTE courses, CTE courses focusing on high-need occupations, agriculture, industrial arts and home economics.

“I think this is actually one of the best bills we’ve passed out of this committee this year,” Delegate Caleb Hanna, R-Webster, said. “I think the sooner we get students engaged in what options they have the better.”

Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, also spoke in favor of the bill. She said Marshall County already has a good CTE program in its middle schools with a participation rate of 85 percent.

As of late Thursday, the legislation did not have a bill number yet.

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.