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WV Supreme Court affirms suspension of principal in ‘dog pile’ case

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A former principal of Buckhannon-Upshur High School who jumped in a "dog pile" of students was rightfully suspended for her actions, West Virginia Supreme Court justices recently affirmed.

In their Jan. 12 memorandum decision, justices — except Justice Margaret L. Workman, who was disqualified —upheld a Kanawha County Circuit Court's order, which held that principal Brenda Wells violated West Virginia Board of Education policies.

The court also reversed the administrative law judge's reduction in Wells' suspension.

The incident stems from 2009 on the last day of class for seniors. Court documents state that a food fight broke out in the cafeteria.

When Wells heard the commotion, she came out of her office but when she got there, the food fight was over and students were congregating on the other side of the room.

Court documents state Wells went over to the group of students to make sure it wasn't a fight.

Court documents state a group of five to six male students were "piling on top of each other" and Wells jumped on a side of the pile for "no more than a couple of seconds."

"The students laughed at the action of grievant, (Wells), the male students broke up the pile and began separating," court documents state. "Students joked with grievant about her not being able to get her feet off the floor when she leaned on the pile."

Students took video of the dog pile by cell phone camera.

Wells said the reason she did this was to "diffuse the situation." However, the Upshur County Board of Education disagreed, saying her actions violated "safety, role model and the responsible citizen provisions of the employee code of conduct."

The Upshur County superintendent suspended Wells for five days without pay.

The issue was taken up by an administrative law judge, who found the board demonstrated that Wells' behavior deserved discipline but reduced the original five day unpaid suspension to one day.

Both parties took the issue before Kanawha County Circuit court. Wells argued the administrative law judge erred by saying the action warranted discipline, court documents state.

The board argued the reduction "exceeded the hearing examiner's statutory authority, was clearly wrong in view of the evidence, was arbitrary and capricious and characterized by a clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion."

However, Kanawha County Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib Jr. affirmed the decision by the West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board, saying Wells was rightfully suspended for insubordination.

The court also, however, reversed the reduction in her suspension and reinstated her five-day unpaid suspension.