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Former state Superintendent’s suit transferred to federal court

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A lawsuit filed by former state Superintendent Jorea Marple will now be taken up in federal court.

Marple originally filed the suit Feb. 15 in Kanawha County Circuit Court stating she performed all her duties and even received "exemplary performance evaluations."

Her suit was removed to federal court Feb. 28.

According to documents filed in federal court, the state Board of Education argues that since Marple alleged termination of her employment violated her rights under the United States Constitution, then original jurisdiction belongs to district court.

In her suit, Marple said the state Board of Education was subject to open meetings laws and that meant members could not discuss actions outside of meeting times and locations.

"Contrary to those provisions, president (Wade) Linger began an agenda of his own in March 2012 to replace plaintiff," the suit alleges. "The furtherance of this agenda by president Linger included contacting various board members to achieve their agreement to his proposed actions."

Marple was hired as the state superintendent of schools in 2011 and was originally fired during a November board meeting, a few days after her husband, Darrell McGraw, lost his re-election bid for attorney general.

Her suit argues that Linger and other board members who joined him did not reveal efforts to the full board or the public, which the suit alleges was required by law.

"Instead, president Linger with his allies of the defendant continued this covert agenda past the reception and tacit endorsement of plaintiffs' superior performance evaluation in June 2012 and further until the meting of defendant on November 14, 2012."

The suit mentioned the first agenda, which noted a personnel matter would be addressed in executive session.

"That agenda item stated nothing concerning plaintiff's position and the prospects of her termination," the suit states.

"Without any notice on the agenda or otherwise, president Linger presented his agenda for terminating plaintiff from her position and illegally tallied a vote of a majority of the board to sustain the firing," the suit states.

Board members revisited Marple's employment status during a second meeting in December and once again decided in a 6-2 vote to terminate her employment.

During the December meeting, President Wade Linger mentioned the state's education statistics, noting West Virginia students rank below the national average in 21 of 24 categories of the National Assessment of Education Progress. He also noted the state's graduation rate is at 78 percent and one in four high school students will not graduate on time.

Because Marple is an at-will employee, the state Board of Education is not required to give a reason for her termination.

An exhibit in the lawsuit quotes Linger saying he wanted to be "as open as possible to the public."

"Everyone is familiar with the situation we find ourselves in regarding the litany of statistics related to student achievement and our rankings," Linger said.

Linger noted West Virginia students rank below the national average in 21 of 24 categories of the National Assessment of Education Progress and also said Education Week's Quality Counts Report gave West Virginia an F in K-12 achievement.

He also said the state's graduation rate is at 78 percent and one in four high school students does not graduate on time.

"And these are just a few of our concerns," he said. "We read all of these things in the papers. So do our friends and family, and we hear about them in business groups, social groups and education groups. School employees hear about them. Parents hear about them. Students hear about them. They are as frustrated as we are."

"We are not saying that Superintendent Marple is any more responsible than governors, legislators, educators or board members for these shortcomings," he added. "We are not here to affix blame today. However, we are charged with the general supervision of schools in West Virginia and we think the people of West Virginia deserve to have these problems fixed."

Linger additionally said there were four issues that warranted a change in direction. These items were listed as: "Many members found no sense of urgency in the department to address some of the issues that have been outlined; when discussing concerns, we often were met with excuses and not actions; too often, we were told how things can't change instead of being offered solutions; and when current practices were challenged, we often found people being defensive."

Linger said the board decided the best way to fix the problems was to have a change in direction with leadership.

"Some of the issues that caused board members to perceive a change was needed are the following: Many members found no sense of urgency in the department to address some of the issues that have been outlined. When discussing concerns, we often were met with excuses and not actions. Too often we were told things can't change instead of being offered solutions. When current practices were challenged, we often found people being defensive."

Marple's suit alleged she was not given an opportunity to act on this new direction.

"Aside from the specific allegations of plaintiff's failure to achieve results reflected in statistics and her direct shortcomings numbered one through four, no ingredients of a new direction with new leadership were revealed which were the generalized supposed reasons for her firing," the suit alleges.

"All of the reasons, pontifications, statistical reports, and verbiage recited by president Linger and ‘adopted' by a majority of the defendant's board members as they relate to plaintiff were false, had no relationship to her tenure as superintendent and contrived in secret by president Linger and his allies on the board to advance an agenda to defendant of her performance as a dedicated, honest and incorruptible public servant," the suit further states.