West Virginia lawmakers have been in an endless battle over school calendars, debating bills year after year.
The latest volley is House Bill 2433, which the full House of Delegates could pass Wednesday.
The bill would ban county boards of education from starting school before Sept. 1 or ending it after June 7, although it would allow counties to request exemptions from the state Board of Education.
Howard O’Cull, executive director of the West Virginia School Board Association, said he’s heard indirectly that two or three county school boards have been concerned that existing school calendar laws negatively affect tourism.
“Beyond that, there’s been no clamor for any change in the calendar since the last major changes were made in 2013,” O’Cull said of what he’s heard from board members.
Now the gun lobby has weighed in.
On Monday, the National Rifle Association posted on its website that it’s concerned the bill will interfere with deer hunting season.
HB 2433 wouldn’t lift the requirement that students have the equivalent of 180 days of instruction each school year, so counties would have to compress the same amount of instructional time into the Sept. 1 to June 7 window.
Historically, the buck firearm season has begun on the Monday before Thanksgiving and runs for 13 days after that.
“Most West Virginia public school systems close for the opening week of deer hunting season for the benefit of students, staff, and their families to enjoy their hunting heritage,” the NRA wrote. “Such a change may result in school systems eliminating the week off for the opening of deer season in order to still meet [the 180-day] requirement.
“Many hunters are prevented from introducing their children or friends to hunting because it is difficult to find time and opportunities outside of the work or school week,” the NRA said. “Countless hunters stop hunting because of this reality in their hectic lives. Current school calendars give West Virginian youth a unique opportunity to experience these hunting traditions and spend time with their families.”
NRA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen said that information also was sent out in a “member alert” message to NRA members, “but that was the extent of our messaging.”
Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson and an NRA member, printed out the NRA’s stance and placed it on delegates’ desks Tuesday.
“I did so in order that members would have a copy as I was referencing it,” he said.
Espinosa previously chaired the House Education Committee, where he helped pass previous changes to calendar laws. He’s now the majority whip for the full House, but he’s also now just a regular member of the Education Committee. His fellow committee members advanced this new bill over his objections.
On Tuesday, he brought up the NRA’s objections on the House floor.
Of the 55 counties, only Wetzel and Wyoming start classes in September, according to the West Virginia Department of Education. The rest start in August.
Thirty-two counties end their first semester by Christmas.
Espinosa also expressed concern about statewide standardized testing occurring even earlier before the end of the school year, if the bill passes.
“It’s generally accepted that the farther you extend your school year past the testing window, the less valuable those days are,” he said.
Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, also raised concern Tuesday about the bill’s effect on trout season.
Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, is a sponsor of the bill.
“I think it meets a desire that many of the parents in the state of West Virginia want to see it occur,” he said.