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W.Va. school board to reconsider Marple vote

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State Board of Education members will meet next week to again consider the firing of state Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple, because their abrupt termination of her last week apparently violated the state's open meetings law.

The agenda for the meeting, scheduled for Nov. 29, was posted on the state Department of Education's website Tuesday evening. The agenda listed plans for discussion and action of the "reconsideration of termination of state superintendent of schools including public comment and the consideration of hiring a new state superintendent."

The following item on the Nov. 29 agenda is "oath of office" -- which could indicate the board still plans to replace Marple with a new superintendent.

Marple's abrupt firing last week has been criticized by many, as has the board's hurried recommendation for a new state superintendent -- Randolph County Superintendent Jim Phares -- the same day.

Though board members voted 5-2 to fire Marple at their Nov. 15 meeting, the matter was not listed on the agenda. Board members spent more than an hour in closed session that day, excluding Marple. Then, after board president Wade Linger called an additional short break, it was announced that an item had been added to personnel matters.

Linger passed around a piece of paper stating that Marple's termination was effective immediately.

The state open meetings law prohibits public bodies from taking action on matters not posted in their published meeting agenda and prohibits amending agendas within two business days of the scheduled meeting, except in emergencies.

Emergencies are defined under the law as an "unexpected situation or sudden occurrence of a serious nature, such as an event that threatens public health and safety."

Asked about the board's actions regarding Marple's firing, Theresa Kirk, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, referred to the commission's Open Meetings Advisory Opinion No. 2005-10

That opinion, called "the cure opinion," outlines the steps that a governing body needs to take when it conducts a meeting that does not follow the open meetings law, but still needs to take official action on matters that were addressed at the meeting.

"A violation of the act can be rectified if a governing body takes reasonable remedial measure over and above ceremonial ratification of the official action previously taken," according to the opinion.

Necessary actions include allowing at least three business days' notice of the meeting and including a description of the matters being reconsidered, allowing the matter to be open for free and full discussion, and maintaining an audio recording of the meeting as a public record for at least six months.

"What this does is provide guidance to public bodies who believe they may not have complied with the act and offers steps they may take to try to cure any defects," Kirk said.

Linger released a statement late Tuesday afternoon announcing plans to revisit the Marple vote.

"I have been advised by counsel that there may be concerns over the Open Meetings Act, and we want to be responsive," Linger said. "As we move forward with significant education reform, it is paramount that the public voice continues to be heard."

Education leaders have expressed outrage over Marple's termination and concerns about a thorough search for her replacement not being conducted. The West Virginia Education Association held a candlelight vigil Tuesday evening, where more than 100 people showed up to show their support of Marple.

Linger had said he wanted to recommend Phares to replace Marple at a meeting Wednesday, but on Monday, delayed the recommendation in order to address the governor's education audit -- the original purpose of the meeting.

Phares told the Gazette last week he planned to resign from his Randolph County position on Monday and accept the position on Wednesday, though he has not yet announced his resignation.

"I remain committed to my actions and recommendations regarding a new direction for education in our state but believe it is important to address this concern.  As I have previously stated, the focus of this Wednesday's meeting should be solely on the audit without distraction," Linger said in Tuesday's statement.

The meeting to reconsider the Marple vote will be held at 10 a.m. on Nov. 29 in Building 6 of the Capitol Complex, Room 353.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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