Education bills bring changes to West Virginia school operations

April 3, 2018Legal Alerts

As with every year, the 2018 legislative session will impact education in West Virginia in a variety of ways. Today, we want to bring to your attention two bills that will make minor – but important – changes in the way schools operate, both of which were signed by the governor last week. The first is Senate Bill 244, related to possession of deadly weapons on school grounds or at school activities. The second is Senate Bill 465, relating to mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect. We will summarize below some of the key changes these bills make.

Senate Bill 244

Senate Bill 244 amended Section 61-7-11a of the code, which limits possession of deadly weapons on the premises of educational facilities. Prior to this year, included among Section 61-7-11a’s prohibitions was a prohibition against possessing any deadly weapon “at a school-sponsored function.” Following the amendment this year, Section 61-7-11a would prohibit possession of a deadly weapon “[a]t a school-sponsored function that is taking place in a specific area that is owned, rented, or leased by the West Virginia Department of Education, the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission, a county school board, or local public school for the actual period of time the function is occurring.” The bill’s lead sponsor, Senator Mike Azinger (R-Wood) said this amendment was intended to clarify if a school is simply using property, otherwise lawful possession on that property would not be made unlawful. If, however, the property is owned or is being rented or leased by the school, possession is prohibited.

Senate Bill 244 also changed an exception that permits possession of a deadly weapon in a vehicle on school grounds. Prior to the amendment, Section 61-7-11a permitted individuals who are at least 21 years old and who hold a valid concealed handgun permit to have a handgun “in a motor vehicle in a parking lot, traffic circle, or other areas of vehicular ingress or egress to a public school” only if the handgun is “out of view from persons outside the vehicle, the vehicle is locked, and the handgun is in a locked trunk, glove box or other interior compartment or in a locked container securely fixed to the vehicle.” The amendment changes this exception to state if the vehicle itself is locked the handgun may be stored in an unlocked “glove box or other interior compartment.” Senate Bill 244 takes effect June 8, 2018.

Senate Bill 465

Senate Bill 465, intended to simplify and strengthen the mandatory reporting requirements for mandatory reporters, makes several important changes to Code Section 49-2-803 of which educators should be aware. First, former Section 49-2-803(b) had provided separate requirements for reporting a disclosure from a credible witness regarding sexual abuse or sexual assault of a child, and had required a report to be made within 48 hours. Section 49-2-803(b) has been deleted by Senate Bill 465. The obvious intent of the deletion was to require that all reports of abuse or neglect – regardless of how disclosed – be made within 24, not 48 hours.

The more interesting deletion made by Senate Bill 465 is that of former Section 49-2-803(c). Former Section 49-2-803(c) had imposed certain requirements on mandatory reporters to report circumstances of sexual contact, sexual intercourse and sexual intrusion occurring between individuals on school premises or school buses, unless the contact was consensual between students capable according to applicable law of consenting to such contact. Section 49-2-803(c) had permitted teachers to report such contact to a principal, assistant principal or similar person in charge, but required that any report be made within 24 hours.

It was clearly the intent in deleting former Section 49-2-803(c) to eliminate the option for teachers to report such contact to principals, assistant principals or other persons in charge. Senate Bill 465 does add to Section 49-2-803(a) that a mandatory reporter “who has reasonable cause to suspect that a child is neglected or abused, including sexual abuse or sexual assault . . .” must make an appropriate report. As a result, Senate Bill 465 does not eliminate the requirement that teachers report conduct constituting sexual assault, as that term is defined by the code, and teachers must still determine whether sexual contact between two students is consensual according to the code. Senate Bill 465 just has the effect of removing the language that made that explicit in Section 49-2-803.

Finally, Senate Bill 465 made two other small changes to Section 49-2-803. First, it removed language requiring that law enforcement notify the parents, guardians or custodians of students made the subject of a report within 24 hours. Second, it added a new Section 49-2-803(d), which reiterates that no individual under the age of 18 is a mandatory reporter. Senate Bill 465 takes effect June 5, 2018.