RACHEL — A Jayenne Elementary School teacher told members of the Marion County Board of Education Monday that she was told to either sign her new contract or lose her job.

“The board has decided to cut the second grade position that I currently hold,” said Stacy Patterson, second-grade teacher at Jayenne Elementary School.

After Patterson and other concerned attendees spoke, the meeting fell into disorder and the board requested Patterson and two representatives from teachers’ unions join the board in an executive session behind closed doors. Approximately 40 people attended the meeting held at the North Marion High auditorium.

“People were trying to get their point across that these jobs need to be maintained,” said John Foley, president of the American Federation of Teachers’ chapter in Marion County. “We don’t need to lose teaching positions in our county at a time like this.”

As the teachers see it, children are already falling behind, the last thing they need are fewer teachers and larger classroom sizes. As the board sees it, the changes are coming down from the legislature and the West Virginia Department of Education in Charleston.

“These were the ‘Anaconda Rules’ and I do believe the teacher organizations went to the legislature and asked them to add these rules,” said Randy Farley, Marion County school superintendent. “So we were applying that.”

The “Anaconda Rule” is a nickname given to a subsection of the rules governing employment, promotion and transfer of professional personnel qualifications in W.Va. Code. The rule allows elementary school teachers who have to be transferred to another school to instead be transferred to a vacancy in another area or grade-level at their current school.

Without this rule, teachers who are transferred “bump” the lowest tenured position in the system out of their job.

Patterson was one such teacher subject to the Anaconda Rule. She was slated to be moved from second grade to first grade.

“[The Anaconda Rule] is kind of like eliminating the position without eliminating the job,” said Rockie DeLorenzo, Marion County Schools administrative assistant for human resources, in an interview Tuesday.

DeLorenzo said these moves come from changes in the student headcounts in these classes. Marion County is expecting a smaller-than-average second grade class this fall, but are expecting a big first grade class, which would require some personnel changes to meet the demand.

However, a decline in students in Marion County is nothing new.

“This year we had a big decrease in enrollment, and we assume it’s because of COVID,” said DeLorenzo. “We’ve seen a steady decline [in enrollment] since 2010. Typically we see 50-100 less students, this year it was close to 300.”

He said the elementary school grades saw the largest decreases with “well over half” in Kindergarten through fourth grade.

“It’s hard to estimate student counts when you have no idea how many will be coming back,” said Mary Jo Thomas, president of the Marion BOE.

Thomas said Tuesday that she and the board were hoping the state would use the estimates from last October and treat the stats from this year as a one-time occurrence, but that didn’t happen. The state made new estimates and enforced them.

“Mr. Farley and Mr. DeLorenzo did what they had to do in order for other adjustments to be made,” said Thomas. “Last night ended up being more like a hearing, it was not supposed to be a hearing.”

However, all of the proposed transfers are now moot. Because board members refused to fulfill a request for a motion to enact the teacher transfers, the issue did not come up for a vote. Because the motion failed, the positions remain unchanged.

“I feel like this is a victory for Marion County students, but there are a few other positions we have to worry about,” said Patterson.

“I hope we were heard,” said Foley “[Patterson] got her point across well and I hope they were listening.”

But Farley said that the teachers may have been allowing emotion to cloud their judgment.

“Regardless how much information people know about the process and how it works, they still get emotional,” Farley said. “The Anaconda Rule — teachers asked to get that rule. Then we use it and they don’t want us to use it because of emotions.”

After the meeting, Patterson and other teachers who attended left feeling like their voices were heard.

“I feel like it’s a victory for Marion County students,” said Patterson. “Now we have to get those other positions being cut on the agenda and get them filled so that our children don’t suffer in the long run.”

Tuesday, the BOE held a work session to negotiate Farley’s 2021-22 contract as superintendent. The specifics of the contract and a vote will be on the agenda of the next public BOE meeting.

Reach David Kirk at 304-367-2522 or by email at dkirk@timeswv.com.

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