‘Trauma training’ bill for school workers moving to House floor

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill to implement training for all teachers, school leaders, paraprofessionals and specialized instructional support personnel on ‘trauma-informed practices’ in schools is headed to the House floor.

House Bill 4649, which would do require the state board to provide such training to school staff to better assist students dealing with issues, passed the House Education Committee on a voice vote Thursday.

Those on both sides of the bill spoke before the narrow voice vote.

“With this, if I was better prepared to spot and to assist students who have had traumatic experiences, I think the educational outcome would significantly improve for our students and their overall education and wellbeing,” Delegate Cody Thompson (D-Randolph), a sponsor of the bill, said of his teaching experiences.

The bill text states that the ‘trauma-informed practices’ means evidence-based professional development that promotes a shared understanding that traumatic experiences are common among students.

The training, for grades K-12, is also meant to also promote how trauma can impact student learning, behavior, and relationships in school, along with the school-wide learning environments where all students and adults feel safe and welcomed, stated in the HB 4649.

Delegate Lisa Zukoff (D-Marshall), a sponsor of the bill, agreed it will improve the overall environment of any school because it’s a ‘holistic approach’ to education with children.

Lisa Zukoff

“It includes teachers, it includes helping the children self regulate when they are experiencing issues that are triggering their behaviors,” she said.

“That, in turn, is helping other students who may have a positive home life and not experiencing trauma to learn in the classroom.”

Similar programs have been set up in the state to address student’s social/emotional needs.

That includes the West Virginia Department of Education’s (WVDE) launch of ReClaim West Virginia with Marshall University earlier this month. In that program, school districts request training from the WVDE.

Delegate Paul Espinosa (R-Jefferson), who opposed the bill, said he heard during WVDE testimony that the programs by the WVDE are working strongly.

“There’s only so much time in an instructional day,” he said. “Every additional required training that you have, makes it more and more difficult to accomplish the other priorities of education.”

Zukoff responded in her remarks about the concept of there being one too many programs for students and school staff.

“To my colleague’s point about having different services, it doesn’t say that you have to use one program because it’s better than the other,” she said.

“We know there is free training available and given the situation that we have in West Virginia with our children in crisis, I think it’s a critical piece of legislation for us to pass.”

Delegate Jim Butler (R-Mason) spoke against the legislation and said it further takes away from what needs to be done at home.

Jim Butler

“I think we all need to keep in mind that every time we do this, we are taking a little bit of resources away from the family structure that needs to be doing this,” Butler said.

“The schools should be teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic, as they say. The school should not be nurses and psychologists.”

He further stated that it seems the legislature is doing some things backward in this session, including this piece.

“Now we are legalizing marijuana and other mind alerting drugs, making it easier to get access to alcohol, all the things that are tearing our families apart,” Butler said.

“Our move here in the legislature has been to weaken the families and to strengthen government and take all the resources away from homes.”

The bipartisan bill, with the lead sponsor being Cindy Lavender-Bowe (D-Greenbrier), has Republican sponsorship from Joshua Higginbotham (R-Putnam), Mark Dean (R-Mingo), Ruth Rowan (R – Hampshire), and Joe Ellington (R-Mercer).

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