CHARLESTON - The West Virginia Board of Education was bombarded with comments from 20 people over the firing of former State Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple during Thursday's meeting in Charleston. Everyone who spoke, including two former state board members, either condemned the board for their action, or asked for Marple to be reinstated.
The meeting was slated to begin at 10 a.m., but got off to a late start as board members arrived late. Public comment for the meeting began around 10:30 a.m. and several tables had to be removed from the meeting room to allow for more seating for those attending the meeting. A table was set up outside the room with a television so people could watch the meeting via the Internet service Skype.
Former state board member and president Cleo Mathews said she was against the firing of Marple and that making changes in the school system can be difficult. She said all the stakeholders including teachers, service personnel, parents and students need to be considered when making changes.
"I care about the school system," she said. "Improving the West Virginia school system is a goal we all want to achieve. Bringing about change in such a complex entity is challenging and difficult."
Former state board member Delores Cook said when she learned of Marple's firing she was upset.
"I thought what was going on when she was given such good ratings and a raise in salary," she said. "This is not the way we operated the state board of education when I was a member here. We tried to do everything up front."
The American Federation of Teachers' West Virginia president, Judy Hale, said she was disappointed by the absence of four of the state board members. Members Gayle Manchin, Jenny Phillips, Robert Dunlevy and Michael Green all participated in the meeting by telephone.
"This is one of the most important decisions that have been made by the board," she said. "To have four board members that cannot get to Charleston this day is unacceptable."
Hale also showed support for Marple and said she was outraged over the firing.
"Dr. Marple dedicated her entire professional life to the children of West Virginia without question," Hale said. "She has a long and distinguished career. She did amazing things in the short amount of time that she was given as the state superintendent of schools."
Robert Baker, chairman of the West Virginia Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission, said he was speaking on behalf of himself. Baker said he believes that the state board violated the Open Meetings Act with the firing of Marple and said Thursday's action to re-affirm her firing did not make it right.
"On the procedural side, the 'Gang of Five,' as I like to call it, intentionally and knowingly violated the Open Meetings Act," Baker said. "You were advised by counsel prior to taking a vote two weeks ago that you were violating the Open Meetings Act. Such a violation is a criminal misdemeanor. It is very likely that the Gang of Five will be charged with a criminal misdemeanor in this manner."
Former Lincoln County teacher Julian Martin said he believed the firing of Marple to be political. He said the move to fire Marple was related to U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, and his wife, Gayle, who serves on the state board of education. Marple is married to former West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw.
"We all know this is Joe Manchin's revenge against Darrell McGraw, because he (Manchin) is not a real Democrat," he said. "Thanks to Joe Manchin now both members of that family are unemployed. This is a dog and pony show."
During the meeting the state board entered into two executive sessions to discuss personnel matters. Before the first, Martin had a heated exchange with state board member Dr. William White. White said Martin was "harassing" him and requested security to come to the meeting room. Capitol Police officers arrived at the meeting and stayed throughout the proceedings. Martin was not escorted from the room but left during the board's second executive session of the meeting.