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Delegates address ‘In God We Trust’

CHARLESTON — Delegates are advancing bills for public schools to display “In God We Trust” signs, allowing more leeway for student athletes to transfer and providing more support in early grade classrooms.

The House Education Committee considered and moved each of those bills on Monday afternoon at the start of the final week of the regular legislative session. Each has already passed the state Senate.

Senate Bill 251 would have public schools display “In God We Trust” somewhere prominent in the main building. That’s been the official motto of the United States since the Eisenhower administration.

The bill’s main sponsor is Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, who spoke before the House Education Committee on Monday morning.

“This just mandates that our national motto be put in our public schools so our children can see it,” Azinger told the committee. He later added, “so kids can see the word ‘God,’ which has basically been scrubbed from our public schools.”

Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, asked what the message would be to students representing religious minorities. “When you stated that ‘God’ was scrubbed from our schools, if it is our national motto, what happens to those religious minority students?”

“I don’t know,” Azinger responded. “Frankly, Delegate, I understand your question but …”

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman,” Walker said, ending the line of questioning.

The committee debated issues like whether the motto should be displayed in every building of every school campus and whether it should be mandatory or optional.

Committee members recessed after the morning session and returned in the afternoon with a revised version of the bill that settled those: mandatory in the main building but optional in others.

Delegate Sean Hornbuckle had at least one remaining question.

“Is there a reason why we’re not going with West Virginia’s motto, rather than the United States motto?” asked Hornbuckle, D-Cabell.

Another bill passed by the committee, SB 262, allows students to transfer schools and retain athletic eligibility.

The House Education Committee made some changes to the bill to specify circumstances under which students may transfer in grades 9 through 12. Those include transfers from a private or parochial school to a public school, transfers from a public school to a private or parochial school or transfers to participate in a sport that is not offered at the original school.

Delegate Bill Ridenour, R-Jefferson, wanted clarification about how that would tighten or loosen the policies. “I’m trying to get a sense for what would be more restrictive, what our current situation is, or what the bill and how the amendment would affect restrictions.”

The committee’s counsel, Melissa White responded, “I would say the amendment is more restrictive in that it specifies the conditions under which someone can transfer. It would need to be from a private or parochial school to a public school or vice versa or a student is transferring for the purpose of participating in a sport, such as swimming, that is not offered at their school but is offered at the other school.”

Ridenour followed up by asking about situations where a student participates in multiple sports and one fits that circumstance but the others do not. White responded that the bill doesn’t address multiple sports.

Senate Bill 274, Third Grade Success Act, also advanced. The bill is meant to bolster early-childhood education in West Virginia.

Some changes by the committee address dyslexia and dyscalculia provisions.