West Virginia bill that would allow teachers remove ‘threatening’ students from class fails

  • A West Virginia bill aimed at allowing public school teachers to remove kindergarten and elementary school students for severe misbehavior failed to pass due to a missed deadline.
  • The bill underwent back-and-forth between the Senate and House of Delegates, with differing versions causing complications.
  • Supporters say that extreme student behaviors affect others’ learning and that teachers are overwhelmed with responsibilities beyond teaching.

A West Virginia bill that would have provided a framework for public school teachers to remove kindergarten and elementary school students from the classroom for severe misbehavior failed to pass after legislators missed a midnight Sunday deadline.

The measure did not reach the final hurdle to passage in the state House of Delegates after a back-and-forth on Saturday with the Senate after the chambers passed slightly different versions of the bill.

Saturday’s events followed years of conversation among lawmakers and state Department of Education officials about school discipline and behavioral issues among children with trauma and adverse experiences at home. The House passed a version of the bill on Friday.

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One in four children live below the poverty line in West Virginia, the state with the highest rate of opioid overdoses. In some school districts, more than 70% are being raised by grandparents, other family members or guardians because their parents are unable to take care of them.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice delivers the State of the State address in Charleston on Jan. 10, 2024. A West Virginia bill that would have provided a framework for public school teachers to remove kindergarten and elementary school students from the classroom for severe misbehavior failed to pass after legislators missed a midnight Sunday deadline. (AP Photo/Chris Jackson, File)

A study from the state Department of Education found that during the 2021-2022 school year, one in four students in foster care were suspended from school. The study also found that students with disabilities and Black students were disproportionately disciplined compared with their white peers, with one in five Black children being suspended from school that year.

Under the House bill, a teacher would have been able to remove students from a classroom if their behavior is “violent, threatening or intimidating toward staff or peers, creates an unsafe learning environment or impedes on other students ability to learn in a safe environment.”

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The students would have then be placed in a behavioral intervention program where they can get extra support and supervision. If no such program is available, they would have to be sent home and a parent or guardian must pick them up. If nobody responds, and after all emergency contacts are exhausted, law enforcement could be called.

Currently, disruptive students are sent to the principal, who decides on potential disciplinary action. The bill gives more power to teachers and sets clearer standards on how to handle such behavior.

Fayette County Republican Del. Elliott Pritt, who is also a teacher, said he supported the bill and some students are afraid to go to school in his county because of “the extreme behaviors of their fellow classmates.”

“If a student has been violent, has displayed violent proclivities, has threatened a teacher or other students, they should not be on the bus home — their parents should be showing up to pick them up,” he said.

Pritt said teachers care deeply about their students but are being asked to do more and more outside their job descriptions, and perform roles they aren’t trained for.

“How much do we expect our schools to do? As a teacher, I’m expected to teach. I’m expected to parent these children. I’m expected to discipline these children. I’m expected to counsel these children. I’m expected to provide them food. I’m expected to provide them clothes. I’m expected to provide them everything they need in life,” he said. “What are the parents responsible for?”

Cabell County Democratic Del. Sean Hornbuckle, who is one of a small group of Black lawmakers in the state Legislature and was a no vote on the bill, reminded his colleagues of the Department of Education’s finding that foster children, children with disabilities and minority students would be disproportionately affected.

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In remarks before the vote was held, he said the bill is incomplete “if we’re not going to speak to those issues that we’re having in the classroom,” such as mental health problems and poor academic performance.

“We have to make sure that we do better,” Hornbuckle said.

Kanawha County Democratic Del. Mike Pushkin, who also opposed the bill, said lawmakers have known for years that societal problems are leading to these extreme behaviors and are only addressing the symptom instead of taking action that could get at root causes.

“Unfortunately when a bill has a price tag attached to it, it doesn’t make it through certain committees,” he said. “Far too many of us know the cost of everything, but the value of absolutely nothing. I wish we could actually address the real issue. And that takes setting priorities.”

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