Mountain State Justice, a nonprofit law office in West Virginia, has filed a petition with the state Supreme Court asking that the state board of education's 5-2 vote to fire former Superintendent Jorea Marple be declared void, the Associated Press is reporting. According to the petition, Marple's firing was not done in accordance with the state's open-meetings law.
When I wrote about Marple's firing last week, you may recall that the vote took people by surprise, including Marple herself, who sparred a bit with board President L. Wade Linger Jr. before leaving the board room after the vote. Apparently that hasn't turned out to be the only controversial part of the vote, which triggered the resignations of two board members in protest.
The vote on Marple's tenure as superintendent was not on the board's agenda for its Nov. 16 meeting. The petition, which was filed by James and Michelle Hicks, parents of an elementary school student in the state, say that the 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 argues that if the public had known that Marple's job would be on the line at the Nov. 16 meeting, more citizens would have wanted to attend. It also seeks a temporary reinstatement of Marple until the state board conducts a hearing on the matter. After Marple was fired, Linger acknowledged concerns about the transparency of the vote and said the matter would be discussed at a Nov. 29 board meeting.
What's the catch? According to a separate AP report, that means the board will vote on Marple's firing again, even though at that same Nov. 29 meeting, the hiring of a new state superintendent is also on the agenda. So the vote appears to be superfluous in terms of Marple's fate. In practical terms, she could simply be fired twice.
Linger and the board made it clear last week that they wanted a new superintendent in office in order to make significant changes to the state education department, on the heels of an audit released last January that criticized the department's layers of bureaucracy and the slow pace of progress on various education reforms compared to other states.
Remember, according to the board, Marple was an "at will" employee and therefore no cause was needed to justify her dismissal. The fundamental issue of Marple's dismissal—her alleged unwillingness to overhaul her department—is separate from the question of whether she was fired after a fair and open process.
Photo: State Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple addresses the media earlier this month in her office in Charleston, W. Va. The State Board of Education terminated Marple by a 5-2 vote on Nov. 15 at the State Capitol. (Bob Wojcieszak/Charleston Daily Mail/AP)