(a) The state board shall by the first day of December, one thousand nine hundred eighty-eight, establish by policy a sabbatical leave program. Such program participation shall be considered optional for each county board. Individuals employed as professional educators, as defined in section one, article one, chapter eighteen-a of this code, and aides shall be eligible for the sabbatical leave program: Provided, That such aides have a cumulative grade point of three and two tenths on a possible four point scale pursuant to successful completion of at least sixty-four semester hours of course work at an approved institution of higher education. Such policy shall establish the educational objectives, peer selection criteria and other guidelines the board deems necessary. The sabbatical leave policy shall provide that not less than ninety-five percent of sabbatical leaves granted shall be for classroom teachers and such policy shall not provide for the granting of sabbatical leave to any employee who has fewer than ten years of West Virginia public school service, nor shall compensation during such leave be more than one half of the employee's regular salary. While on sabbatical leave the employee shall be deemed to be a full-time employee for purposes of years of experience and participation in the teachers retirement system and the public employee insurance program. Any employee receiving asabbatical leave shall be required to return to employment by the board which granted the leave for a period of at least one year or repay the compensation and benefits received during that time and have deducted the retirement credit and years of service credit accrued during sabbatical leave: Provided, however, That sabbatical leaves for teachers and certain aides shall be optional by the respective boards.
(b) Notwithstanding any other provision of this code to the contrary, if the state teacher of the year either works with programs approved by the state department or attends school at a college or university to further his or her education, the teacher shall receive a sabbatical from his or her position for up to one year in which the teacher has been selected as state teacher of the year: Provided, That if the state teacher of the year chooses to take a sabbatical, then the state department shall provide the county from where the teacher is taking the sabbatical with an allowance equal to the state average contractual salary for teachers.