Shorter school year, class cameras, other education bills move

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By Ryan Quinn, Charleston Gazette-Mail

West Virginia students could see the number of instructional days they receive each school year reduced from 180 to 170 under House Bill 2433, which is being considered by the House of Delegates.

County boards of education also would be banned from starting classes before Sept. 1 or ending them after May 31, although schools operating on “balanced,” often called year-round, calendars would be exempt.

The legislation would keep the mandate on school boards that workers must have an “employment term” of at least 200 days per school year. Yet the bill wouldn’t specifically require the “noninstructional” days per school year to increase from 20 to 30.

Those noninstructional days currently must include seven paid holidays, a day to prepare to open schools, a day to prepare to close them, makeup days and days for mandated purposes, including curriculum development, student-parent-teacher conferences and employee training.

The bill would add record keeping and “community outreach” to the other purposes the noninstructional days must be used for.

House spokesman Jared Hunt said the bill was moved to the House inactive calendar “for the purposes of better managing floor work” ahead of Wednesday, called “crossover day” because any bills originating in the House or Senate have to be sent to the other chamber by the end of that day. Hunt said 60 bills were originally slated for amendment stage Monday.

The House and Senate are each pushing multiple education bills before then.

Cameras in special education

Public schools would be required to have video cameras in classrooms in which most regularly attending students are provided special education, if Senate Bill 632 passes. It was scheduled to be in amendment stage in the Senate on Tuesday.

The bill would define who could see the recordings, including parents and guardians of students involved in alleged incidents like bullying, abuse and neglect. Incidents would be defined as suspicions raised by parents, guardians, teachers or aides.

School psychologists

County school boards would be required to have at least one school psychologist per thousand kindergarten- through seventh-grade students “in net enrollment or major faction thereof,” if House Bill 2397 passes.

The bill — up for passage in the House on Tuesday — wouldn’t give county school boards extra money for the psychologists. The deadline to meet the ratio would be the 2021-22 school year.

A Department of Health and Human Resources report in December concluded that West Virginia public schools need roughly 270 more psychologists, alongside 380 more counselors and 700 more social workers, and increases in other positions.

But that DHHR recommendation cited a National Association of School Psychologists’ recommendation of one per 500 to 700 students, lower than the bill’s ratio.

Home-schoolers and sports

Home-schooled students could participate in sports in their public school attendance area, if this bill passes.

The House Education Committee discussed House Bill 3127, but never passed it out of committee.

Friday morning, Delegate Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam, moved to recess the committee before it voted on the bill, the committee began voting on whether to recess, and then Committee Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, unilaterally recessed it after Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, suggested Hamrick could recess without a vote.

Hamrick later pulled the bill off Friday’s agenda because, he said, there weren’t enough votes on the committee to pass it.

Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, successfully moved on the House floor Monday to circumvent the committee through a “discharge” from committee motion, moving the bill straight to the floor of the full House. It will be in amendment stage Tuesday.

Most West Virginia public school students take the same “standardized” tests, which are supposed to award scores based on whether students can show they can meet certain academic standards.

Home-schoolers may take their parents’ choice of varying “nationally normed” tests, which grade students on a bell curve based on how well they do compared to other students who’ve taken the same test.

Scoring “within or above the fourth stanine” means 77 percent of students nationally could still outscore the student before they’re ineligible for sports under the bill.