The Times West Virginian

December 1, 2012

Parents press Marple case; board responds

By Lawrence Messina
Associated Press

CHARLESTON — Parents of a West Virginia public school student filed papers Friday continuing their court challenge of the firing of Jorea Marple as state superintendent, rejecting Thursday’s do-over vote by the Board of Education to dismiss her as a “dog and pony show.”

James and Michelle Hicks allege that the only way to remedy what they call willful violations of the state’s Open Governmental Meetings Act would be for the state Supreme Court to declare Marple’s initial, Nov. 15 firing invalid and bar the board from naming a new superintendent.

In its own court filing, the board on Friday defended its handling of the Nov. 15 meeting at which it voted 5-2 to oust Marple. The agenda for that meeting included personnel matters as a topic, but Marple’s was not among the two specific cases listed.

“The plain language of this agenda clearly states that personnel matters were to be discussed, and it does not include any exclusionary language limiting the Board to only discuss the two employees specifically mentioned,” the board’s filing said.

The response argues further that Thursday’s vote affirming Marple’s firing remedies any potential violation of the sunshine law.

The couple disagrees in its Friday filing.

“It is clear that the (board’s) remedial measures were nothing more than a ceremonial and perfunctory ratification of its prior termination,” that filing said, adding that “the remedial measures of the Board amounted to nothing more than a dog and pony show.”

The Hickses have alleged that a lawyer for the board warned President Wade Linger not to act against Marple at the Nov. 15 meeting in the absence of proper public notice, but that Linger “responded that he would take his chances.” The board’s response does not address that allegation specifically, but does say that “strong suggestions or inferences alluded to by Petitioners do not change the facts of this matter or the manner in which the decision was made by the Board.”

The board’s response also notes that it has paid Marple for the period between Nov. 15 and Thursday, in the event an open-meetings violation is found.

The Hickses also question the board’s explanation for Marple’s firing: that it desires a change in direction and leadership because of poor student achievement and graduation rates.

“It is believed that the Superintendent’s refusal to support certain no-bid contracts and contracts in which certain Board members have an interest is the true reason for her termination,” the couple’s filing said in a footnote, with no additional details.

James and Michelle Hicks are the parents of a fourth-grade special-needs student in Boone County. They are represented by the public-interest law firm Mountain State Justice. Lawyers with the Charleston firm of Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown & Poe filed the board’s response.