The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 22, 2012

W.Va. court asked to void Marple’s firing

By Pam Ramsey
Associated Press

— The parents of a special-needs child asked the West Virginia Supreme Court on Wednesday to declare the firing of former Schools Superintendent Jorea Marple void, calling it an ambush termination that violated the state’s open meetings law.

Mountain State Justice filed an emergency petition with the court on behalf of James Hicks and Michelle Hicks, whose child is a fourth-grader at Brookview Elementary in Foster.

The petition asked the court to temporarily block the West Virginia Board of Education from naming a new superintendent until a hearing is held and to temporarily reinstate Marple.

Board members voted 5-2 last Thursday to fire Marple, whom they appointed to the $165,000-a-year post in March 2011. The recommendation to fire Marple was not specifically listed on the board’s agenda, although other personnel actions were outlined.

“Had the Petitioners and other citizens been notified and aware of certain Board members intention to act on the Superintendent’s position, they and other citizens would have wanted to attend the meeting,” the petition states.

The petition also claims that Marple’s firing was predetermined in discussions held outside regular meetings.

No justification for the decision was given and Marple was not fired for cause, the petition said.

“The Superintendent’s termination was predetermined in back-room, secret meetings among certain Board members in clear violation of West Virginia’s Open Governmental Proceedings Act,” the petition stated.

Department of Education spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro declined to comment on the petition, citing pending litigation.

While the law doesn’t require specific items discussed in executive session to be listed on the agenda, it does require an item to be placed on the agenda in order to be acted upon.

The petition seeks an expedited schedule for the case, saying the Department of Education doesn’t have a superintendent and the board “has indicated it is rushing to replace the Superintendent without an appropriate search.”

On Tuesday, board President Wade Linger said the board will revisit the recommendation to fire Marple on Nov. 29. The board also will take public comment.

The agenda for the meeting also lists discussion of hiring a new state schools superintendent.

The board had planned to discuss a new superintendent on Wednesday, but postponed the matter until the Nov. 29 meeting so it could focus instead on a response to an audit of the public school system.

Soon after Marple’s firing, Linger announced that he wanted Randolph County Schools Superintendent James Phares to replace her.

Deputy Superintendent Charles Heinlein was appointed to succeed Marple in the interim.