Board to revisit Marple firing

CHARLESTON – It’s expected a majority of the state Board of Education during a special session here Thursday will again fire Jorea Marple, the highly regarded former principal and Kanawha County superintendent named state schools chief 18 months ago.

According to the board’s agenda, the 10 a.m. meeting in Room 353 in Building 6 on the Capitol Complex will include “reconsideration of termination of State Superintendent of Schools, including public comment thereon.”

Critics have called the board’s actions suspect, noting that subsequent action items on the board’s agenda for Thursday include consideration of hiring a new state superintendent of schools and the administration of an oath of office.

Jorea Marple looks over her desk at the Capitol on Nov. 15, moments after learning the state school board had voted 5-2 to fire her, effective at the end of the day. Her contact wasn’t on the board’s agenda and she said later she had no idea her job was in jeopardy.

In a 5-2 vote during the board’s Nov. 15 meeting, the board ended Marple’s contract as superintendent, effective at the end of the day. The move wasn’t on the board’s published agenda, as required by West Virginia’s open meetings law.

Marple urged the board to provide the reason for her termination, and board president Wade Linger later released a short statement that cited only a need for a change in direction.

“Dr. Marple’s concern for and commitment to West Virginia’s schoolchildren is well known,” the Marion County resident said. “She has served them with distinction, and we appreciate her public service. However, the West Virginia Board of Education believes this is a time for a change in direction. As such, we think it is important for new leadership.”

The firing has become the basis for a lawsuit, filed last week in Charleston. Mountain State Justice, a public interest law firm based in Charleston, has asked the state Supreme Court to reverse Marple’s dismissal.

According to the emergency petition, the state board fired Marple illegally and against the advice of Heather Deskins, a lawyer who serves as the Department of Education general counsel.

The suit also alleges members of the board plotted secretly before the Nov. 15 meeting “in clear violation” of the state’s open meeting law.

The two board members who voted against firing Marple – Priscilla Haden and Jenny Phillips – said during the Nov. 15 meeting that they would resign in protest, effective Dec. 31.

Marple’s ouster also prompted a hastily arranged candlelight vigil at the Capitol, held on Nov 21.

“Under Dr. Marple’s leadership, the direction of the West Virginia Department of Education focused on increasing student achievement and allowing teachers time to teach,” West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee told the crowd of 150 or so. “Now tell me, does that mean that the state board wants to go in a different direction than that?”

Another issue of contention is Linger’s apparent desire to put in Marple’s job James Phares, Randolph County Schools Superintendent since 2009. The two men worked together when Phares was schools chief in Marion County and Linger was a school improvement council volunteer.

Moments after Marple’s firing on Nov. 15, Linger sought to name Phares to replace her. After Haden protested and asked how the board could hire a replacement without first conducting a search for the best candidate, Linger agreed to wait for a week. Last week, the decision again was postponed so that the board could discuss a response to an audit of the public school system conducted last year – this time holding off until the meeting Thursday.

According to a story earlier this month in the Inter-Mountain of Elkins, Phares said Linger had talked with him in late October about whether he’d want Marple’s job “should it become available.”

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