Lesson Learned Column May 22, 2019

By their collective wisdom, our West Virginia Legislature decided to abolish our Regional Education Service Agencies (RESA) in a cost-saving measure several years ago. However, the Upshur County Board of Education and the Boards of Education of Barbour, Doddridge,
Gilmer, Harrison, Lewis, Marion, Preston, Randolph, Taylor, and Tucker counties continue to meet from time to time, sharing resources and wrestling with common problems. On April 25th we gathered in Tucker County as the West Virginia School Board Association to study developments from the Legislature’s 2019 Regular Session.

My lesson learned comes from a discussion shared by all of us with Attorney Kim Croyle, Partner at Bowles Rice LLP (Morgantown). She is one of several attorneys who help us with school law. As West Virginia elected officials, we come to our position of service on the BOE from a wide variety of professions. Really, being a psychiatrist is an asset for serving in this time of increasing mental health issues, but that does not prepare me for West Virginia law.

A barrier to effective administration for improving our schools has been the way we deal with our employees who have crossed the line to unprofessional activity. Newly enacted WV State Code 18A-2-8(d) strikes me as a useful tool when the unfortunate situation arises for suspension and dismissal of school personnel by a board of education. It helps clarify the appeal process:

“(d). A county board of education has the duty and authority to provide a safe and secure environment in which students may learn and prosper; therefore, it may take necessary steps to suspend or dismiss any person in its employment at any time should the health, safety, and welfare of students be jeopardized or if the learning environment of other students has been impacted.”

For eight years I have considered the actions I vote on and the decisions that I make to be guided by what benefits our students and grandchildren. But I felt, until learning of WV State Code 18A-2-8(d), that the process was weighted in favor of the employee and not the student.

The “Aha” moment came as Dr. Sara Lewis-Stankus, our Upshur County Schools Superintendent; Dr. Tammy Samples, our BOE President; Katie Loudin, our BOE Vice-President; and I sat together at our table, hearing and understanding this major shift in school l aw. We knowingly met eye to eye.

Let a grievance be filed against our BOE if we are dismissing an employee who is negatively impacting the health, safety, and welfare of one of our students. We want the employee out for the sake of our children. Let the grievance board order the reinstatement if they dare go against the BOE providing first and foremost a conducive learning environment.

“Any time” is now within our authority to act. Thus, West Virginia Code gives us both duty and authority that I never felt we had before. Legislative collective wisdom on occasion really is wise.


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