|The House Education Committee on Monday approved House Bill 5179, which requires the state Department of Education to establish a policy to support the educational outcomes of pregnant and parenting students.
The bill’s legislative finding states “parents of children throughout any age in middle or high school should be given the utmost support, because they face a unique set of challenges and circumstances on their road to graduation. School systems in West Virginia shall implement programs to provide educational support to those students with children at any age through graduation. The goal of this act is to assist these students to stay in school while providing enough time for proper medical recovery after the birth of the child. “
The county board policy must “excuse all absences due to pregnancy or parent-related conditions, including absences for labor, delivery, and recovery.”
The county board policy must provide:
· at least eight weeks of excused absences for a mother giving natural vaginal birth or birth of the student’s child through a C-section.
· excused absences for antenatal care by recommendation of the medical provider;
· two weeks excused absence for the father of the child;
· assurance that the parent remains on track for graduation by providing academic support options, including, but not limited to, work provided virtually and a homebound instructor for weekly visits to ensure accountability;
· excused absence for parenting students whose children are sick while also providing a doctor’s excuse for that child.
The bill was amended so county boards may refer affected students to services that a “pregnancy help organization” may provide.
As defined in code, those organizations refer to “maternity homes, adoption agencies, and social services agencies that provide material support and other assistance to pregnant women.” State law delineates that these organizations “do not perform, prescribe, refer for or encourage abortion, as defined above, nor do they affiliate with any organization that performs, prescribes, refers for, or encourages abortion.”
Delegate Mike Pushkin of Kanawha County sought to remove the “pregnancy help organization” provisions from the bill, although agreeing to revised amendment language making such referrals “permissive.”
Delegate Pushkin contends “crisis pregnancy centers,” which are included under the definition of “pregnancy health organization,” may be mistaken for medical facilities, although medical staff may not be — most often are not — on premises.
Other Delegates said, based on their knowledge, that crisis pregnancy centers provide services relating to parenting, as well as providing supplies for parents and infants, including diapers and baby food or formula.
Based on a response by Committee Counsel, “refer” means a school employee, likely a counselor, could provide handouts or other written resources relating to “pregnancy health organizations.” The bill, as introduced, required “reference” to these organizations, although some Committee members said the referral might create liability for a county board in terms of implied transportation to the facilities or related considerations.
The Committee adopted an additional amendment, offered by Delegate Heather Tully of Nicholas County, which removed statutory language stating a doctor’s excuse was required for “every absence” as delineated in the bill. The revised language requires such absences in cases of medical conditions or follow-up after the return to school for matters relating to birth complications.
According to Committee Counsel, the measure grew out of a social worker’s concern that some county boards require students, after birth of a child, to return to school within one week and that requirement is onerous also in terms of infant health appointments, child care, and other considerations.
Following the landmark decision in United States Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which held the United States Constitution does not confer a right to abortion, some lawmakers contend “crisis pregnancy centers” have been criticized as discouraging abortion and/or appearing to provide medical care.