Interpretation's Date: November 8, 2013
by superintendent Dr. James B. Phares
Section: V. Personnel


TO: County Superintendents and Personnel Directors

FROM: James B. Phares, Ed.D., State Superintendent of Schools

DATE: November 8, 2013

RE: Permitting Coaches to Work Prior to Their Coaching Permit Application Being Issued

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The Office of Professional Preparation of the West Virginia Department of Education has noticed a practice by the county school systems that submit applications to OPP for athletic coach authorizations of permitting the applicants to work before their application is approved. I wish to call your attention to the fact that this practice violates West Virginia Code and West Virginia Board of Education Policy.

An individual who is not a certified professional educator employed by the county must be issued an athletic coach authorization under West Virginia Code 18A-3-2a(e)(3) and WVBE Policy 5202, § 11.9.c.1I, 126CSR136, in order to work or volunteer as a coach of a school's athletic team. In order to be issued a coaching authorization, the applicant must be employed under a coaching contract with a county board of education, hold a minimum of a high school diploma or an equivalency diploma and complete training from the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission or approved local board of education training if the sport is not within the WVSSAC's jurisdiction.

Additionally, the county superintendent must verify that no currently employed, professional licensed educator applied for the position. A coaching authorization and contract are valid for one year only. The position must be posted annually unless the position is held by a certified professional educator. Therefore, an individual working under a coaching authorization must renew his or her authorization annually.

As State Superintendent of Schools, I am charged with issuing certificates and other authorizations only to an individual who "is of good moral character and is physically, mentally and emotionally qualified to perform the duties" for which they are being licensed. W. Va. Code 18A-3-1(i)(1). To this end, a coaching applicant, and all other applicants, must complete an Applicant Information Page, Part 2 of which is Disclosure of Background Information. This section asks whether the applicant has ever been arrested or convicted of a misdemeanor or felony, has ever been disciplined by an employer because of misconduct allegations or resigned because of such allegations and has ever had adverse licensure action taken. A first-time applicant must also submit fingerprints for a state and national criminal background check.

If the Applicant Information Page or the criminal background check discloses any adverse information, or the West Virginia Department of Education has independent knowledge of adverse information, the application is flagged for additional investigation and review before a decision is made whether to approve it. This process may take months, depending upon the number of applications currently being investigated and reviewed.

The OPP has observed that some counties are permitting coaching applicants to work during the season their particular sport is being played even though their applications have not yet been approved. Sometimes, in fact, the OPP has denied an application based upon evidence of misconduct by the applicant only to find that the applicant has already coached the entire season.

The counties may have mistakenly relied upon West Virginia Code 18A-3-2, which provides:

Any professional educator, as defined in article one [§18A-1-1 et seq.] of this chapter, who is employed within the public school system of the state shall hold a valid teaching certificate licensing him or her to teach in the specializations and grade levels as shown on the certificate for the period of his or her employment. If a teacher is employed in good faith on the anticipation that he or she is eligible for a certificate and it is later determined that the teacher was not eligible, the State Superintendent of schools may authorize payment by the county board of education to the teacher for a time not exceeding three school months or the date of notification of his or her ineligibility, whichever shall occur first. All certificates shall expire on the thirtieth day of June of the last year of their validity irrespective of the date of issuance.
This statutory section applies specifically to professional educators defined in West Virginia Code 18A-1-1, not athletic coaches working under an authorization. An athletic coach working under an authorization clearly is not considered a professional educator; an authorization may only be issued to an athletic coach if no regularly employed "professional educator" has applied. Because athletic seasons typically last no more than three school months, the exception under section 18A-3-2 would swallow the rule. There would be little incentive for an applicant to cooperate and provide requested information to the OPP in order to complete the investigation and review process if a coach may participate in the sport and supervise team members without the authorization.

Understanding the importance to the counties of the OPP being able to conduct its investigation and review of coaching authorization applications where there is adverse background information in a timely fashion, I offer some suggestions to the counties. Post coaching positions well in advance of the season. If you interview nonprofessionals who will need to apply for an authorization, review the OPP Information Application Page with them to determine if the candidate's application may be routinely processed or whether the OPP will need to conduct an investigation. Work with the individual to make sure he or she has provided all the requested documentation with the application, e.g., court documents and a narrative. Establish contact with the OPP staff so members will know whom to call if they need assistance or information.


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