|The House Education Committee had two contentious bills on its agenda Tuesday. HB2364, which would permit teachers in K-12 schools be authorized to carry concealed firearms as a designated school protection officer. Committee staff recommended an amendment to clarify that training for school protection officers includes 32 hours of training, 16 of which must be in person. The local sheriff will also have a training program on use of force that also includes an annual re-qualification. It provides for a fee by the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) of up to $195 that may be charged to the county school board, which may be passed on to the educator.
Committee Counsel responded to a number of questions, including whether increasing the number of law-enforcement officers rather than arming teachers was considered, to which he indicated that is a policy question and he was unaware.
Based on additional questions, Counsel informed the committee that teachers would first volunteer and then would have to have the requisite training before serving as a school protection officer, the bill appears to provide for the protection of others and not just the individual with the concealed carry permit; that counties must opt into the program, and that it only applies to administrators and teachers, not service personnel.
Sarah Stewart of the Dept. of Education responded to questions about the bill, and when asked about insurance coverage, she stated that counties are responsible for insurance premiums.
Stacy Nowicki-Eldridge, general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security was also asked about the liability issue. She indicated that the question of liability depends on a number of circumstances.
Dale Lee, Pres. of WV Education Association, said the organization has not taken a position on the bill, “But I personally would not want the burden of being an SPO.” He also stated that if the intent is to protect students then the legislature needs to go further to provide for the emotional and social needs of students.
During the discussion on the motion to report it is noted that 28 states have adopted similar legislation. Furthermore, it is a voluntary program. The committee voted to recommend passage of the bill to the House on a roll call vote of 16-6.
The committee then debated an originating bill regarding participation in single-sex secondary school athletic events. The bill amends current code by requiring the Secondary Schools Athletic Council verify that students are participating pursuant to the gender indicated on the student’s birth certificate.
The bill applies to middle and high school activities and requires a birth certificate at the time of admission to school. While other states have considered similar legislation, Counsel was not aware of any states passing such legislation.
When asked whether a female place kicker may participate in football, Counsel responded that federal law (Title IX) would permit a female participate in male sports unless a female football team exists.
Sarah Stewart, with the WV Dept. of Education shared with the committee that currently there are no rules that address students transitioning to a different gender, and she is unaware of any complaints about transgender students playing sports. Steward stated Title IX controls circumstances for female students playing sports on male teams. The department has no policies, but she indicated that the outcome of a case currently pending before the U.S. Fourth Cir. Court of Appeals may cause the bill to violate federal law. She also indicates that she is unaware of any complaints about transgender students playing sports.
No one from the SSAC was available to speak at the meeting because they were occupied in a Senate committee.
Eli Baumwell, Policy Director for the ACLU is asked about the impact on federal Title IX funding which he believes may be terminated if the state is in violation of federal law. He also believes there are some privacy concerns as they would be required to disclose information about the gender at birth and efforts to undergo transitioning.
Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, was asked whether the bill can be laid over until someone form the WVSSAC could be available, and a motion is made to do so. On a voice vote, the Chairman held the motion to be rejected. Division was called for and the Chairman’s ruling was sustained, so the bill then was up for a vote on passage of the bill.
On a voice vote, the motion appeared to be defeated but the Chairman indicated he was uncertain. A division was again called, after which it was determined that the motion to report the bill to the full House with a recommendation that it pass was adopted by a vote of 15-6.