The West Virginia House of Delegates very narrowly rejected a bill to create a statewide school calendar starting after Labor Day and ending before June 7.
The vote followed a lengthy debate on whether House Bill 2433 interferes with a county's ability to establish a school schedule that takes into account snow days, holidays and — yes — deer hunting season.
According to Education Committee Chair Del. Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, counties would be able to request a waiver for this calendar requirement, if the bill becomes law.
“State board may waive the requirements of the section upon request of a county board, and state board rule is required for the approval process,” Ellington said before Wednesday’s vote.
Some delegates who opposed the bill questioned how easy it would be to obtain a waiver.
“I think that the current system we have now where the school boards get to choose their days works great,” said Del. Carl Martin, R-Upshur. The schools around him, he said, start the second week of August.
Del. Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, spoke on Tuesday about “concerns that have been raised by the NRA,” or the National Rifle Association.
Espinosa directed delegates to look at a letter on their desks provided by the NRA’s “Institute for Legislative Action.” The document accused House Bill 2433 of imposing a “one-size-fits-all calendar on all schools in West Virginia.”
The NRA’s largest concern, shared through Espinosa, is that the bill would have run the risk of eliminating some school’s ability to grant their students a week off for deer hunting season.
Del. Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, said Tuesday he’s an advocate for the Second Amendment, yet he disagreed with Espinosa’s remarks.
“I’m a proponent of the Second Amendment,” Thompson said. “I own guns. I come from a long family of hunters. My dad and my uncles and my grandfathers, we’ve been generational hunters. The NRA, though, does not need to be dictating educational policy.”
Del. Caleb Hanna, R-Nicholas, said Wednesday he supported the bill because it would offer school staff and families a more secure schedule.
“To really say that we’re taking flexibility away from the counties, I really don't think is fair,” Hanna said. “I think what we’re really doing is giving surety to our teachers, parents and students that they’ll know exactly when school will be every year.”
Del. Scott Cadle, R-Mason disagreed.
“About four years ago, we passed legislation to let the counties set their own schedule, because we had counties that had a lot of snow days,” he said on the House floor. “And they weren’t getting enough school days, so we gave them flexibility to do whatever they needed to do to get the 180 days in a calendar year … this bill would take their ability away, to do that.”
Del. John Kelly, R-Wood, was the lead sponsor on House Bill 2433. He said in his own testimony some county boards of education have “abused” the flexibility Cadle mentioned.
Kelly also said the bill would provide teachers more time to advance their degrees, e families more time to plan summer activities, allow teachers a chance to work a part-time job over the summer to supplement their income and allow students to take a part-time job over the summer.
“It would also reduce the need for families to take vacations after the start of the school year, and thus would reduce absenteeism,” Kelly said of the failed bill.
This was the first bill the House has rejected on the floor this session.
Note: The first paragraph originally read "create a statewide school calendar starting after Labor Day and ending before Jan 7". It was update to the correct ending date, June 7.