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Fired superintendent receives education award

CHARLESTON, W.Va. --  A state teachers union has given an award usually granted to non-educators to former state Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple. 

Last week, Marple received the 2013 Margaret Baldwin Friend of Education Award from the West Virginia Education Association.

Marple, whose abrupt firing in November by West Virginia Board of Education members has led to a pending lawsuit, is the only superintendent to ever receive the award, according to WVEA President Dale Lee.

"We wanted to show appreciation for what she did while she was superintendent by going to classrooms and listening to teachers and service professionals across the state and changing policy that made sense," Lee said. "She continues to be an advocate for children. Her heart is with education, and that's never going to change."

The Friend of Education Award, which is usually given to those outside the education profession who exhibit "leadership, actions and support of education on behalf of students and education employees," was last awarded to House Speaker Rick Thompson in 2011.

Other past recipients include former Attorney General Darrell McGraw, who is Marple's husband and won the award in 1988, former West Virginia governors Gaston Caperton and Bob Wise, and current state school board member Lloyd Jackson.

Any member of the WVEA can nominate someone for the award. Then, a subcommittee of the organization selects the winners, according to Lee.

The WVEA presented the award to Marple by videoconference during a banquet last week, Lee said.

Marple is suing the state Board of Education and demanding a hearing to confront its members over her termination, alleging that her firing was unlawful and "contrived in secret."

The actions of the state board violated Marple's rights and caused irreparable damage to her reputation and ability to gain future employment, in addition to mental anguish, according to a complaint filed in February by Charleston attorney Tim Barber in Kanawha County Circuit Court.

The lawsuit claims that state board President Wade Linger began an agenda nine months before Marple was fired to replace her and contacted various board members about the plan. None of those efforts were revealed to Marple, the full membership of the board or the public, as required by law, according to the complaint.

During a regular board meeting Nov. 15, 2012, the board spent more than an hour in closed session without Marple and then returned with one amendment to the agenda: a motion to end her employment immediately. The motion was approved 5-2.

The board later revisited that process, and officially placed Marple's termination on a later agenda and opened it up to the public for discussion. That was an attempt to remedy any violations of the Open Meetings Law that might have occurred during the first meeting.

Linger and board members Gayle Manchin, Robert Dunlevy, William White, Michael Green and Lloyd Jackson voted to terminate Marple. Members Priscilla Haden and Jenny Phillips voted against her firing and resigned from the board.

Only Jackson, who was out of town during the first meeting, missed the initial vote.

The Board of Education argues that Marple was a will-and-pleasure employee and denies it damaged her reputation. The board also says that as a state agency, it's immune from liability.

The school board's actions were "willful, wanton, and in reckless disregard" of Marple's rights, the lawsuit states.

Earlier this month, Marple's attorneys filed a request that her suit be heard in state court rather than federal court, saying the case's issues focus on West Virginia law.

The Board of Education originally had the case moved to federal court, saying Marple claimed that her federal due process rights were violated.

Judge Thomas Johnston will hear the case. Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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