Chris Schulz Published

New Disciplinary Measures Would Extend To Elementary Grades

A group of young children, many with a hand raised, sit on the floor in front of a smiling, blonde woman wearing a light green sweater and holding a picture book in front of the group. The scene is set in front of shelves of books in the background.iStockphoto

Student discipline continues to be an issue in West Virginia schools, and lawmakers continue to try and address the issue through legislation. A bill in the state Senate is trying to expand on a law that was passed last year. 

House Bill 2890 passed the legislature in 2023 and gave school teachers and administrators more leeway in school discipline. But the law that allows a teacher to remove a disruptive student to a different environment to protect the integrity of the class only applies to grades six through 12 and educators say more needs to be done.

Tuesday morning, the Senate Education Committee discussed Senate Bill 614, which intends to expand the ability to remove disruptive students to the elementary level, from kindergarten through sixth grade.

Committee Chair Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason, is the bill’s lead sponsor and said discipline is the number one issue teachers bring to her, and is driving them to leave the profession.

“Teachers who have been teaching for 25 plus years have said ‘I’ve had enough, I’m done. I feel like my hands are tied. I do not have the backing of my administrators,’” Grady said. “A lot of our principals are great but a lot of the comments have been ‘My principal feels like we can love these kids so much that it’s going to change their behavior.’ God bless them for that because that’s what we try to do. But in reality, we can’t. A lot of them, we can’t change the behavior just by love.”

The bill requires that once a teacher determines that a student’s violent, threatening or intimidating behavior is creating an unsafe environment, then the teacher may take action. The student will be removed from the classroom for the remainder of the school day, parents will be notified to pick the student up from school – preferably immediately – and the student will not be allowed to ride the bus.

“If the student is not picked up by the end of the day, the principal or other district employee shall notify law enforcement,” the bill continues.

A student’s removal from the classroom under the bill would result in an automatic suspension for the next one to three school days. Alternative learning accommodations are then made and once that is done, the student may not return to school until a risk assessment is done. Even then the student’s return to school is on a provisional basis of five to 10 days, and if another incident occurs within the time frame, the student will return to the alternative learning environment for the remainder of the school year.

If the principal or vice principal disagree with the teacher, the teacher may provide documentation and appeal to the county superintendent.  

Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, invited Lindsey McIntosh, general counsel for Kanawha County Schools, to speak on the bill. She brought up several concerns, including a lack of funding for behavioral intervention programs required by the bill as well as no clear definition of the violent, threatening or intimidating behavior that could have students removed.

“They can’t express their emotions correctly, K through sixth grade,” McIntosh said. “I’ve had students that will literally say, ‘I’m gonna kill you.’ They don’t mean they’re gonna actually kill you. They just mean that they, again, can’t express their emotions correctly, and they use that term because that’s the term that they hear. That could be considered violent or intimidating.”

McIntosh went on to say that the law’s requirement of suspension took administrators out of a serious disciplinary decision, and would take students out of the best environment for them.

“I think the law changed last year to allow more teacher input on that issue,” she said. “However, when we’re talking about suspensions, those are always made or should always be made by an administrator just for consistency’s sake.”

Appeals to the county superintendent was also a sticking point for McIntosh, who pointed out the significant burden that it would create in Kanawha County. 

“This is the hard part about writing laws,” she said. “You’re writing them for the smallest county which may experience this maybe three or four times a year. We would experience this probably 10 times, I would say, a week. So for the superintendent to have to go in, get to that level of discipline would be a lofty assignment.”

Kanawha County Schools is the state’s largest school district with more than 23,000 students enrolled, accounting for close to 10 percent of the state’s public school enrollment.

Committee members, including Sen. Mike Oliverio, R-Monongalia, stated their support for the bill and ultimately for teachers.

“I have confidence in our teachers,” he said. “Many of them are certified or trained or experienced, and as far as fleshing out the language when a kindergarten through sixth grade teacher in elementary school determines that the behavior of a student is violent, threatening, intimidating towards staff or peers or creates an unsafe learning environment or impedes another student’s ability to learn in a safe environment. That’s pretty clear.”

Trump moved to lay the bill over to allow more time to work on language. All other senators spoke in favor of the bill and voted down Trump’s motion.

Grady conceded that the bill was imperfect but necessary for the sake of teachers. She said educators cannot put the needs of one disruptive student over those of the dozens of other children in the classroom.

“Is this a perfect bill? Absolutely not,” Grady said. “It’s introduced today or it’s on the committee agenda today, because I worked with counsel, I bless him, to try to get it perfect. And I realize we can’t get it perfect. It’s never going to be perfect. But does it solve the problem of what teachers are bringing to me? Yes, they feel like it does.”

The bill was recommended to the full Senate with the recommendation it pass. The committee adjourned shortly after approving SB 614 without taking up any of the other four bills on the agenda for the day.