Teachers have attributed worsening student behaviors to pandemic-spurred learning disruptions and trauma stemming from the state’s opioid epidemic


A bill that meant to back elementary teachers removing violent students from their classrooms passed through the West Virginia Senate on Monday.

There are still concerns about how the legislation, which comes with no funding, could play out in public schools that don’t have resources like behavioral intervention programs, social workers and more.

Senate Education Chairwoman Amy Grady said her legislation shows the public school teachers that lawmakers are listening to their needs.

A state education department survey of teachers showed that addressing worsening student behavior and discipline issues was a top need, she said.

“We couldn’t sit here and name another profession where you would be expected to be OK with having things thrown at you, spit on, hit, punched, kicked, bitten. But teachers have to do that every day,” said Grady, R-Mason, during bill debate.

According to the bill, Senate Bill 614, teachers in kindergarten through sixth grade could remove students from their classrooms because of violent or threatening behavior toward staff or classmates that has interfered with learning.

Removed students would be sent to a behavioral intervention program, which Grady said are only available in 21 counties. If the county doesn’t have a program or enough staff to serve the child, the student would be suspended for one to three school days.

Under the legislation, students could be sent to a neighboring county’s intervention programs. Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, questioned the logistics of that.

“How do we transport that child from one end to another if it’s a grave distance?” he asked.

Grady said that counties would have to make their own agreements about how it would work.

Because the bill has no funding, Grady said she hoped counties would dip into the state’s more than $1 billion in expected opioid lawsuit settlement funds to pay for the programs, which can cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The bill passed with only Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, voting against it.

Fred Albert, president of American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, thanked Grady for her leadership on the issue while worrying about the unintended consequences for students.

“This bill, I think, is trying to address the issue, but will we have the resources we need?” he asked. “I don’t think that we need to just be suspending students. That’s not going to help them. Many times we’re going to send them back to a situation that’s not safe for them.”

“I don’t think that we need to just be suspending students. That’s not going to help them.

– Fred Albert

Teachers have attributed worsening student behaviors to pandemic-spurred learning disruptions and said they struggled to get ahold of parents when they need to discuss an issue.

West Virginia’s students are also acutely impacted by the state’s opioid crisis, which is linked to increased need for special education and mental health services. Additionally, more than 6,000 children are in the state’s overwhelmed foster care system.

Not every public school has a full-time licensed social worker or counselor.

“We need to help students figure out what’s causing this and help these students improve their behavior,” Albert said.
Ahead of the vote, Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, voiced concerns that the bill came with no funding for schools to implement its requirements.

“It seems to me there would be funding for counseling or intervention in the family,” he said.

He also worried about the bill’s requirement that a parent must pick up the removed child from school. If not, the bill said law enforcement could be called.

“Parts of the state I represent, parents have hit the road, Jack, and there’s no one in the house frequently,” he said.

Caputo also had concerns about the bill, but felt that there was still more work to do to help students.

“We’ve got to do something, but we don’t know what that something is,” he said. “I commend [Grady’s] hard work on this one. I’m going to trust you on this one. I’m going to vote for the bill, but I hope we can find more remedies.”

The bill goes to the House of Delegates for consideration.

House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, declined to comment on the legislation until he had a chance to review the bill. The House has its own version of an elementary student discipline bill, which Grady said the Senate will not take up.

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