Bill to change school calendar fails on third reading

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A bill that would have pushed back the start of the public school year in West Virginia was rejected in the House of Delegates on Wednesday over concerns about maintaining scheduling flexibility, including letting students have time off for deer hunting season.

After significant debate, the bill was rejected on a 50-47 vote. Three delegates were absent. A similar bill last year passed in a committee but died in the House.

“I think arguably this legislation does anything but put our students first,” said former House Education chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson.

The bill, whose lead sponsor was Wood County Republican John Kelly, would have mandated that the school year start no sooner than Sept. 1 and end no later than June 7. County public school districts could have sought waivers from the state Board of Education.

West Virginia public school calendars now typically start in early to mid-August. In 2013, the state school board gave counties the ability to schedule school calendars that fit their individual needs.

Opponents of the bill pointed out that counties already have a hard time fulfilling the current 180-day calendar mandate due to days missed from harsh winter weather, and that people who want to change a school calendar can already lobby their local school board.

“I just think we’re going in the wrong direction, folks,” said another bill opponent, Del. John Shott, R-Mercer. “We’ve done a U-turn on our efforts to try to give school boards flexibility.”

The National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm was concerned the new “one-size-fits-all” calendar would prompt the elimination of a week’s vacation that coincides with the opening of the firearms hunting season for deer on the Monday before Thanksgiving. Tens of thousands of hunters head to the woods starting in late November, many of them teenagers.

“Current school calendars give West Virginia youth a unique opportunity to experience these hunting traditions and spend time with their families,” the NRA said in a statement this week.

That prompted this response from bill proponent, Del. Caleb Hannah, R-Nicholas: “When it comes down to it, what’s more important, deer season or the education of our students?”

Kelly said the current school calendar interfered with families’ plans for vacations and opportunities for teachers and older students to hold jobs during the summer. He noted that tourism officials favored the bill, which would have provided a more uniform school year statewide.

Proponents also said many schools don’t have the proper ventilation and air conditioning during the hot days of August.

Kelly accused school boards of abusing the extra powers given to them under the 2013 mandate.

“I haven’t talked to a parent who doesn’t want this bill passed,” Kelly said.

The full list of how each delegate voted can be seen below:

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