Time to return to the fight …Published:February 13, 2022
The pandemic has exhausted teachers, and considering the two years before the Covid era, West Virginia teachers have endured quite a bit. And yet, we find ourselves again in a precarious situation because the state legislature wants to fundamentally alter the job of public school teachers in ways that rob us of our ability to make independent judgments about our classroom and students.
West Virginia’s House of Delegates and Senate both have Republican supermajorities, allowing them to pass virtually any piece of legislation they wish. The Education Committees in both chambers are doing everything they can to pass legislation which harms public education in West Virginia.
What’s out there?
• In a short phrase: dozens of bad bills and few good ones. But let’s start with one of the more ridiculous ones. HB 4619 proposes that West Virginia require all public school classrooms have cameras in them.
It’s almost laughable that delegates here can’t seem to do much to write their own bill, because they ripped off more ‘model’ legislation that is stunningly similar to a bill Florida is currently considering. Ironically, the lead sponsor of the bill is Delegate Kathie Crouse (R), a long time home school advocate and an unelected appointee to a position vacated by Josh Higginbotham.
Cameras in the classrooms are a terrible idea. They inhibit classroom discussion and participation of students. The software and hardware for this measure are expensive to purchase and maintain. With a bill like this, the legislature is sending a message that they do not trust professionals to be professional. This measure will push more people away from a profession which already faces a shortage — one that has more than doubled since 2015.
Before placing cameras in classrooms, can we please place cameras on lawmakers? I would love to know their activities on a daily basis, including which lobbyists they meet.
• The state also has no less than five bills regarding critical race theory, a matter which I suspect most lawmakers could not accurately explain. Let teachers handle these issues. We have expertise, experience, and the knowledge to educator children in these matters. The individuals sponsoring these bills don’t care about educating students about race as much as they care about scoring points in the ‘culture war’ where they can brag about how they defeated a ‘radical liberal agenda.’
One lawmaker, Senator Mike Azinger (R), sponsored a SB 587, which would create a tip-line where anyone could call in to report one of us rogue teachers who instructed children about critical race theory. Moreover, the
“… tip line is intended for parents to send in any instances where they feel that their fundamental rights are being violated, where their children are not being respected, and where there are inherently divisive practices being taught in schools.”
Who is going to pay for a tip line? Who monitors that tip line? The state would need several employees for that one. They might as well call it the vent line, because that’s precisely what it would become.
• West Virginia struggles to maintain a healthy population. One would imagine the state attempts to incentivize staying here whenever possible. HB 2315 attempts to detain young people, by requiring them to pay back their PROMISE Scholarship money if they do not state in state for the first few years, post-graduation. Maybe this might make a little more sense if the state had jobs for these graduates. Do we expect them to toil away in some tedious job instead of seeking better opportunities? This is not the way to keep young people in state.
• With HB 2320, teachers also face the possibility of mandatory drug testing. This law would violate a teacher’s 4th Amendment rights, and implied rights to privacy. Even if the state enacted this, the cost alone would be ridiculous, particularly when compared to any teachers who might test positive for drugs. Moreover, if a teacher comes to school while under the influence of drugs, it would take less than 10 minutes for someone to recognize this and take the appropriate action.
• The GOP also would like for teachers to have the ability to carry concealed firearms to school, with the designation of ‘school protection officer.’ HB 2364 would increase the number of guns in schools without adequate training. This bill insults teachers and police officers. Law enforcement officials complete rigorous training to operate in their capacity as a police officer. No one can expect a teacher to be on par with a police officer in their duties. Mistakes with guns have permanent consequences, and that’s not a responsibility which teachers should add to their work. Just as we ask in our work, let’s leave this to the professionals.
• Two bills in the queue relate to the United States Constitution which do not seem to make sense. HB 4547 would require graduating seniors to pass a test on the Constitution, and the contents of that test would be made available to the public. The state provides plenty of instruction on American government and the Constitution, which are undoubtedly important subjects. But this bill would only add more costs into the budget and be one more unnecessary and duplicative hurdle for seniors who would only find ways to game the system because they don’t see it as relevant. These students take the Constitution seriously, but not the mandated testing of it. Maybe the legislators should take a government test as a prerequisite for assuming office. They might start to take the Constitution more seriously.
The other bill regarding the Constitution, SB 495, would require graduating seniors to swear an oath to defend the Constitution. Students who did not attend graduation would be required to take the oath five days prior to or after the graduation ceremony. I can’t believe I even read this correctly. The Constitution is an amazing document which establishes the federal government and our rights as American citizens. But what does it say about the nation as a whole if we mandate our children to defend it? A nation worth defending won’t need anyone to swear to defend it or its Constitution. People willingly defend it. Freely defend it.
What does it all mean?
These bills are not about the betterment of education. The legislation under consideration contains ulterior motives.
1. Weakening public educators’ and their unions. The bills mentioned here are just a handful of many foolish ideas perpetuated which do not take into account the expertise of public school teachers. Individuals in the field tend to know best what would help or hinder various aspects of that profession. Teachers are not consulted, and if anything, the Republicans in the legislature want to punish public educators for the Teacher Strikes in 2018 and 2019. The party long has held labor unions in low regard, and it sense an opportunity to attack. The pandemic has exhausted teachers, and the GOP has the numbers to pass legislation it prefers.
2. Willing the ‘culture war.’ The Republican Party’s ideas, when polled amongst West Virginians and Americans, are not popular. However, the party does a tremendous job stoking the fears of individuals. The GOP claims there’s always a boogeyman around the corner, waiting to take away your values or jobs, or brainwash your children. Republican candidates frequently appeal to critical race theory, a ‘radical liberal agenda,’ ‘common core,’ as a way to secure votes. These problems largely do not exist. Republican politicians point to the one teacher in the country who attempts to wrongly influence children, but they never want you to realize that most children have positive classroom experiences with teachers.
The culture war also contradicts some of the supposed core values of Republicans. Generally, the GOP has touted fiscal responsibility. Who wants to spend money on video cameras and the necessary software for it? Why do we need drug testing for the more than 20,000 public school teachers? Who will pay for the training of teachers who want to carry firearms? Do we really want to pay for the development of a test which we must then distribute to all graduating seniors? This is not responsible use of tax dollars.
Republicans have also traditionally supported low government interference, localized control of government, and the freedom of choice. Their proposals consistently violate these principles. We hire teachers because we believe they are the best suited for the job. Do not turn them into robots, but let them have broad freedom to do their job as they see fit. Get the government out of the classroom, right? Don’t put mandates on teachers and students.
3. Building a brand for individual legislators. Republicans in West Virginia need something to sell to voters and their economic development isn’t working. The party has held the majority in legislature for nearly a decade now and what does the state have to show for it? Businesses aren’t coming to the state in droves. Concepts like ‘right to work’ have not done anything for the state. Population is down. For Republicans to continue to win elections, they must deliver something, or at least appear they’re delivering something.
Several of the legislation mentioned above have some common sponsors. Kathie Crouse received an appointment to fill the remainder of Josh Higginbotham’s term in the House of Delegates. While she definitely serves in a friendly district, she’s not a long term incumbent and throwing in her lot with the company does not hurt.
Mike Azinger is the second angriest man in the legislature (the number one spot is reserved for angry man Craig Blair). What is he really known for? He participated in the January 6th Insurrection at the Capitol and perpetuated lies about former President Donald Trump and the events of that day. Azinger stated about the insurrection, “It was inspiring to be there and I hope he calls us back.” Let that marinate for a few minutes.
Time for us to get off the mat …
The last few years have hurt us. The pandemic made our job more difficult. The legislature made our lives more frustrating. Not all of the Republican lawmakers are bad people. Several have been avid supporters of public education. But the number is too few, and teachers need to regroup and return to the fight. It starts with calling or e-mailing your representatives in the state legislature. Just a few minutes of your time moves us all one step closer to a better education system for students and teachers! We are happy to help with whatever you need!
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