Joint Committee on Education hears update from Dep. Superintendent Sonya White on day one of April Interims

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The state’s Joint Standing Committee on Education, during the first day of April’s Interim Legislative Session on Sunday, heard an update from Sonya White, deputy superintendent of the West Virginia Department of Education. 

“Today we are here to talk about HCR (House Concurrent Resolution) 88, and fostering student success with educational stability,” White began. “This is something that was introduced by Del. Pinson (Jonathan, R-Mason) to help with foster students as they transition from school to school, and make sure that we have a way to work with the Bureau for Human Services.”

“Many times, foster students, as they move around, they have gaps in their education,” White continued. “This is something that Superintendent (Michelle) Blatt and I have personal experience with – we both have family members who have fostered to adopt children.” 

HCR 88 was adopted by the House of Delegates on Feb. 26, but was immediately referred to the Rules Committee for further review. 

“What we know is that they (foster children) did experience high levels of instability in where they stay, and their education,” White noted. “75% of foster students experience an unscheduled school change during the school year. Again, they’re one of our most vulnerable sub-groups.”

“At 17,” White added, “They’re less likely to graduate high school.”

According to White, new actions taken by the United States Congress requires child welfare agencies and educational agencies to collaborate to find solutions for children in the foster care system.

“They passed the Uninterrupted Scholars Act in 2013,” White added. “That allowed education agencies, such as school systems, to share records with the agencies that support foster care.”

White said that the department’s first step toward implementing HCR 88 was to evaluate the resources currently available.

“We’re going to take those, but do a better job of communicating them out or preparing something, so that when a child comes into a house, the social worker will have something to hand to the foster parents,” White said. “What we’re hoping to do by July is have that support system in place.”

“And then, to give it a local flare, maybe a county or a local school would have their own flier,” White added. “We would give them a template, and they could add the unique pieces that are in their county, in addition to the ones that are statewide.”

At the conclusion of White’s presentation, Del. Dana Ferrell, R-Kanawha, said, “These students tend to be transient.”

“I think the biggest challenge – and as a former secondary education teacher, I can tell you that they (foster students) come, and they go, and they move,” Ferrell continued. “Their biggest impediment both socially and academically, is the inconsistency of someone of authority in their life.”

“Is there any interest in looking at trying to build a program where, even if they have to move schools, they can maintain contact with that counselor or that teacher as a transition, so they don’t just abruptly leave one setting and go to another?” Ferrell asked. 

In response, White said, “Personally when I was an elementary principal, my counselor and I followed up with the new school.”

 “That’s definitely something we could look at,” White added. “Our Communities In Schools-piece may be a way that we can make sure to check in with them. That’s certainly something we need to consider with this.”

The Joint Standing Committee on Education will meet again during next month’s Interim Legislative Session, scheduled for May 19 through 21. RealWV will provide updates from the committee as additional information becomes available. 

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