ELKINS – The Randolph County Board of Education voted Wednesday to terminate the employment of an Elkins High School teacher charged with soliciting a minor student at the school.
Donald A. Johnson, 33, was arrested on July 16 and charged with one felony count of solicitation of a minor. Bond for Johnson was set at $75,000 cash only by Randolph County Chief Magistrate Ben Shepler.
Johnson was suspended without pay from his position as the librarian at EHS after he was removed from the school by West Virginia State Police in May, officials said.
Wednesday’s vote was a 3 to 2 decision. Board members Harvey Taylor, Lisa Wamsley and Bruce Haddix voted to suspend and terminate Johnson, while Donna Auvil and Janie Newlon voted against the recommendation, made by Superintendent of Schools Terry George.
Members of the BOE did not acknowledge or indicate whether their decision to terminate Johnson’s employment was related to his arrest and court case.
“I would have voted for ratifying the superintendent’s recommendation for continued suspension, but not termination,” Auvil said after the vote.
BOE members commenced Wednesday’s meeting by voting to meet in executive session. Johnson’s attorney, Rebecca Judy, told Wamsley she assumed she and Johnson would be taking part in the closed-door session as well.
“No, this is executive session,” Wamsley said. “It is closed to the public.”
“Well, since the issue was called for my client, the whole meeting was, in my understanding, that it would be held in executive session,” Judy said.
Wamsley said that was incorrect.
“So we will have our opportunity?” Judy said.
“The Board would like to talk with the board’s superintendent and attorney,” Wamsley said.
“Normally on a personnel matter, you are not going to be discussing my client, or this issue,” Judy said.
“No,” Taylor said.
“As long as that is not happening,” Judy said. “If that is happening, I want to be present. I demand under the code that I be present. As long as it’s not discussing my client, I have no objection. If my client is being discussed, it would be an illegal board meeting.”
The BOE then went into executive session into another conference room. After several moments, Judy began knocking on the conference room’s door, and she was allowed into the executive session. She returned to the board room momentarily, with the board members, George and Gregory Bailey, the BOE’s attorney, following several moments later.
After resuming the meeting, George made a recommendation “to ratify the suspension of the employee, based upon the letter that was issued on May 7, and also to ratify my request for termination of the employee.”
Following George’s recommendation, Judy addressed Wamsley.
“Madam President,” Judy said. “As council…”
“Excuse me, Miss Judy,” George said, raising his voice. “Unless you are recognized by the president of the Board of Education, will you please remain quiet during the meeting?”
“Madam President, may I speak?” Judy said.
“Not at this time,” Wamsley said. “We have heard the superintendent’s recommendation to ratify the motion. Do I have a motion of 5038?”
At that point, Auvil made a motion to amend the superintendent’s recommendation.
“I move that it be a suspension with pay at this time,” Auvil said.
After a short pause, Wamsley declared Auvil’s motion had died for lack of a second.
Wamsley asked the board if there were any questions of the superintendent.
Judy rose to her feet and asked if she could address those gathered.
“No,” Wamsley said. “This is a board hearing.”
“There is a hearing and there is a clause that says we have a right to be heard,” Judy said. “At what opportunity are you giving Mr. Johnson to have that right?”
“You had the opportunity to sign up prior to the board meeting to address the board under delegations and comments,” Wamsley said. “However, this is a special session.”
“Madam President …,” George began, but was interrupted by Judy.
“This special session…” Judy said before being interrupted by George.
“The attorney for Mr. Johnson, in writing, withdrew her request for a hearing today,” George said. “So that’s in writing. Mr. Bailey has that.”
Judy said, “In writing that said we requested a grievance three,” referring to a grievance hearing.
“Ma’am, you can do that – there is paperwork to do that with,” George said.
“We withdrew the request because we are moving to a level three hearing,” Judy said. “I have that in writing. I would be happy to share with the board and the press, that writing that was discussed. The only reason we withdrew our level one hearing was because we were requesting a level three. If you refer to your code, a level three replaces a level one. This board does not have the authority to act because we have moved to a level three.”
“This is not a level one grievance hearing,” George said. “We are not holding a level one hearing. Level one hearings are controlled by the grievance board. This is not the grievance board. If the client’s attorney is confused with level one and a board hearing for termination – I am not certain why she is confused about that – but this is not a level one grievance hearing. This is the superintendent’s recommendation to ratify my suspension of the employee and to ratify my recommendation for termination. this is not a grievance hearing.”
“The level one grievance is held by the chief administrator,” Judy said. “That termination cannot occur – I will be happy to show you the letters from Mr. George that state we have the right to a hearing in front of this board, unless we are moving to a level three. Had anyone told us that this hearing and this termination was continuing today at 4 p.m., when I specifically spoke to (an attorney), we would have had all of the union representation here.”
“This is not a level one grievance,” George said.
Wamsley said she had a question for the superintendent.
“Under this termination hearing, it says you have requested an executive session,” Wamsley said. “This is no longer in executive session. Does this need to be modified?”
George directed the question to Bailey, who said the meeting was currently in open session.
“But we were not notified of this action,” Judy said. “State code requires 10 days. We were notified of this hearing by this (holding up the notice.) So either you let us present our information that says a level one should not continue because we have went to a level three, or I have to state that I believe your actions are illegal.”
George told Wamsley, “This can all be argued at the level three hearing.”
Wamsley called for a vote, but was interrupted by Auvil, who requested the BOE go back into executive session.
“We just came out,” Taylor said.
George reminded Wamsley a second would be needed to go into executive session again. Janie Newlon seconded the motion and the board went into a second executive session.
As the BOE members were filing into the conference room for a second time, Judy insisted she be permitted to go with them into the session.
“Please do not interfere with our meeting tonight,” Taylor said.
“This is for his personnel action,” Judy said.
The board members closed the door, and Judy was not permitted to join in the executive session.
After about 15 minutes, the BOE members resumed the meeting, and voted on George’s recommendation.