As lawmakers put the finishing touches on the regular legislative session Saturday night, this election year proved to be a big one for religion-in-public-schools bills. The most notable one would put in law that Bible classes are allowed in public schools.
But more got done on the final day of the session — including a bill ensuring counties investigate school employees who endanger students and ensuring teachers who groom students for sexual abuse lose their licenses.
We’ve written about bills letting home-schooled students more easily play on public school sports teams, freeing more colleges from state oversight of their spending and giving colleges the option to count English learned as a second language for college credit.
Here’s a look at how some other education bills fared. Only one has gotten Gov. Jim Justice’s signature so far — the rest that were passed still await his approval or veto.
SB 623 Allowing non-citizens to earn teaching certificates
This says non-citizens who hold a Permanent Resident Card (Green Card), Employment Authorization Document or work permit issued by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services can earn public school teaching certificates.
Before this, the law just said a foreign exchange teacher “or an alien person who meets the requirements to teach” could get a teaching permit, but not certificates.
The Senate passed this last month with only Sens. Paul Hardesty, D-Logan, and Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, voting no. The House passed it last month, with no nays and only Delegates Tom Azinger, R-Wood, and Chuck Little, R-Wirt, absent.
Justice signed it into law Thursday.
HB 4378 Revoking licenses of teachers who abuse kids
This would require county boards of education to — when there’s evidence an employee jeopardized a student’s health or safety — finish investigating the employee even if they resign before the investigation is done.
It would also strengthen the current requirement that county schools superintendents report suspended or fired employees to the state superintendent by mandating this reporting within seven days, and also requiring reporting of workers who resign amid investigations.
The state superintendent would also be required to maintain a public database “of individuals who have had adverse action taken against their teaching certificate by the state superintendent.”
It would also mandate that educators who “groom” students or minors for sexual abuse automatically lose their licenses for at least five years. This revocation would no longer be an optional choice left up to the state schools superintendent.
Grooming would be defined as “befriending and establishing an emotional connection with a student or minor, which may include the family of the student or minor, to lower the student’s or minor’s inhibitions” to sexually abuse them.
This mandatory revocation would also apply to any educator who “exploited a student” in various ways, including sexual abuse, that “escalated into a relationship with the exploited student within 12 months of that student’s graduation.”
In December, stories by The Arizona Republic, KJZZ and the Gazette-Mail revealed former University High Assistant Principal Pete Cheesebrough had kissed a student, his Monongalia County superiors had investigated him, they allowed him to quietly resign, he began teaching in Arizona, and now-former West Virginia state superintendent Steve Paine had declined to revoke the teaching certification he used to work in Arizona.
Paine wrote in an order that he didn’t want to affect Cheesebrough’s new teaching job.
Not revoking his certification could have also allowed Cheesebrough to return to teaching in West Virginia. Cheesebrough was never prosecuted or found guilty of any crime.
The Senate passed this Thursday, with no nays and only Sen. Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, absent. The House passed it Friday, with no nays and only Delegates Tom Bibby, R-Berkeley; Nathan Brown, D-Mingo; and John Kelly, R-Wood, absent.
SB 750 Awarding course credit for extracurriculars
This would require county boards of education to develop policies that grant students elective credits for “learning opportunities outside of the traditional classroom.”
Organizations and individuals would be able to submit applications to offer these credits, and the bill would require nonprofits, businesses, trade associations, parents and school employees to be among those allowed to apply.
School boards could deny applications, but each would be required to “provide a detailed explanation of the reasons for its denial and suggest ways to improve the application that will assist its more favorable view by the county board.”
The House passed this 88-12 Wednesday. The Senate agreed to the House’s changes and passed it Friday with no nays and only Mann absent.
HB 4022 Joint four-year, community college chancellor
Current law says the chancellor of the state agency that oversees four-year colleges can’t simultaneously be any other type of administrator within a higher education system.
Sarah Tucker, chancellor of the agency that oversees community colleges (the Community and Technical College System), is currently also serving as interim chancellor of the four-year agency (the Higher Education Policy Commission).
This bill would say that Tucker or others going forward can simultaneously be chancellor of both. The vast majority of staff at these agencies are already shared between them.
The Senate passed this Wednesday, with only Sens. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, and Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, voting no.
The House agreed to a Senate amendment and finished passing this Thursday, with only Delegate Michael Angelucci, D-Marion, voting no.
HB 4497 Requiring AEDs at games and practices
This would require automated external defibrillators (AEDs) on the school or event grounds during all games or practices “under the control, supervision and regulation” of the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission.
That would mean the vast majority of public school sports, and many private school sports. The SSAC regulates football, basketball, baseball, soccer, cross country and other sports and band for public, and some private, middle and high schools.
The American Red Cross says AEDs can analyze the heart’s rhythm and deliver an electrical shock, also called defibrillation, to help re-establish an effective rhythm. Currently, the SSAC only recommends that schools have AEDs.
The Red Cross says AEDs are the only way to restore that rhythm during cardiac arrest, and for each minute defibrillation is delayed, odds of survival drop by about 10 percent.
The Senate passed the bill unanimously Saturday, and the House voted 99-0 Saturday night to accept the Senate’s changes. Delegate Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha, was absent.
SB 723 Making education department address student discipline disparities
This would require the state Department of Education to study school discipline statewide, develop a program to address the study’s findings and report back to lawmakers every two years on the discipline data and the progress made, both in the statewide program and in individual counties’ programs.
While the version the Senate passed Monday, with no nays and only Mann absent, didn’t mention race, the House amended the bill to say this “will include information by subgroup, including but not limited to, race, gender and disability.”
Reports have shown black students in West Virginia, and nationwide, are receiving out-of-school suspensions from public schools at far higher rates than white students.
The bill cleared the Senate on a unanimous vote earlier in the day and the House passed it Saturday night with only Delegates Tom Bibby, R-Berkeley; Jim Butler, R-Mason; and Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, voting no.
HB 4069 Student Religious Liberties Act
This says county public school systems “shall not discriminate against students or parents on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression.”
Religious discrimination is already banned by a higher power: the U.S. Constitution.
Last month, the House passed 76-22, with Delegates Amanda Estep-Burton, D-Kanawha, and Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, absent, a version that would have gone further.
It would have set up a process for randomly selecting student speakers and chronologically matching those selected to speaking engagements, while simultaneously elevating the free speech rights of football team captains and student council officers.
It also would have said “the subject must be designated for each student speaker, the student must stay on the subject.”
On Friday, the Senate, in a voice vote with no nays heard, amended the bill to remove all that student speaker language — making it closer to just a reiteration of students’ First Amendment rights.
Late Saturday, the House voted 74-25 to accept the Senate’s changes.
Failed to pass
SB 482 Guns in school parking lots
Under current law, those over 21 years old with conceal-carry permits may keep a handgun in a car in a public school “parking lot, traffic circle, or other areas of vehicular ingress or egress.”
This would remove the requirement for the conceal-carry permit.
This passed the Senate last month, with only Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, voting no. The House Judiciary Committee never advanced it.
SB 661 Shorter school days
This would no longer guarantee a minimum number of instructional minutes per school day.
Instead, an average of five hours per school day would be required.
That’s 300 minutes per day, which is the existing minimum required for early childhood education, 15 minutes less than the minimum for elementary school, 30 minutes less than the minimum for middle school and 45 minutes less than the minimum for high school.
The changes would allow for some days to have practically zero instructional time, as long as the average of five hours daily over the school year is maintained.
Existing law provides some exemptions to the minimum length of the school day but doesn’t go this far.
The Senate passed this unanimously last month, but the House Finance Committee never advanced the bill.
HB 2794 Feeding kids outside school
This would require every county school system to do annual, countywide student surveys regarding their eating patterns outside of school and the availability of nutritious food at those times.
Counties would also have to collect information to give to students about where to get food on weekends, holidays and summers — places like churches, businesses and charities.
It would also require the Department of Education to help counties provide, at a minimum, one training opportunity a year to entities that can provide non-school-day meal sites.
The House Education Committee advanced this, but the House Finance Committee never did. It didn’t manage to pass either chamber.
HB 2775 Requiring personal finance course
Currently, high schoolers who don’t take Advanced Placement Government and Politics, a college-level class, are required to pass a course called Civics, most often offered during their senior year.
The Civics course requires learning about social studies topics, plus personal finance.
This bill would require an entire personal finance course to graduate high school. The state school board would have to come up with the course’s required content.
Senate Education, in a voice vote with no nays heard, recommended removing the mandate from the bill. County boards of education could still require the credit for graduation, as they’re already allowed to do.
After that recommendation, the Senate Rules Committee sidelined the bill.
The House had passed the bill last month 89-8, with three delegates absent.
SB 850 Banning discrimination based on hair
This bill would say racial discrimination includes “discrimination based on hair textures and protective hairstyles historically associated with a particular race.”
“Protective hairstyles” would include, but not be limited to, braids, locks and twists.
The bill would have affected not just schools, but businesses and other sectors.
The Senate passed this last month, with only Sens. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, and Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, voting no.
But the House Judiciary Committee didn’t advance the bill.
The full House Wednesday rejected a motion by Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, and one of the Legislature’s four black members, that would have allowed the House to vote on the bill regardless of it not making it out of the committee.
Delegates Tom Azinger, R-Wood, and Ben Queen, R-Harrison, joined all the Democrats in voting with Hornbuckle.
All the other Republicans, plus Delegate Marshall Wilson, I-Berkeley, voted against Hornbuckle.
Delegates Linda Longstreth, D-Marion; Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock; and Terry Waxman, R-Harrison, were absent.