The Barbour County Board of Education upheld a decision requiring a Junior Elementary kindergarten student to be transferred to another school this week, after her name was drawn out of a hat by school officials earlier this month.
Tensions ran high Monday evening as members from two families addressed board members regarding the transfer of the student.
Officials determined this month that the number of students in the kindergarten classroom at Junior Elementary exceeded by one student the maximum allowed by the state.
The names of two students who live in Barbour County but outside the Junior school zone were placed in a hat by school officials Sept. 12. The family of the student whose name was drawn out was told that she would have to transfer to another school.
At Monday's meeting, Joe Bolyard and Stan Swick, the father and grandfather of the girl whose name was drawn, asked the board to address the situation, as did Pat Miller, the father of the other student whose name was placed in the hat.
"I am asking the board to reconsider the decision to have my daughter move from Junior Elementary to Belington Elementary," Bolyard said.
Bolyard said he was told the reason his daughter has to leave the school is because otherwise the county would have to pay the kindergarten teacher $2,200 in overage fees. Bolyard said he has offered five times to pay the cost himself so that his daughter could stay in the school.
"My daughter is adjusted to this classroom," Bolyard said. "If she is transferred it would have a negative effect on her learning."
Bolyard and Miller told The Inter-Mountain that Junior Elementary School Principal Jennifer Swift also has a student enrolled in the school's kindergarten class as an in-county, out-of-zone student.
The Inter-Mountain has obtained a letter to the Bolyard and Miller families dated Feb. 28, in which Swift reminded the families of the need to complete the necessary in-county, out-of-zone student request forms and have the principal of the school sign them. These forms were available on March 5, but in the letter Swift told parents she would not be available to sign their forms until March 6.
According to Bolyard and Miller, Swift completed her child's form on March 5 and signed as principal, allegedly assuring her child would be allowed to attend Junior Elementary.
"It is not fair that the appropriate personnel were not available to everyone on the first day to submit the forms," Bolyard told board members Monday.
Swift was not present at Monday's board meeting, and Board President Robert Wilkins cautioned Bolyard and others speaking on the subject Monday that they were to refrain from using school employees' names or their titles during their presentations, or they would not be allowed to continue speaking.
A West Virginia Ethics Commission spokesperson said Tuesday that governing bodies have substantial leeway in restricting public comments at meetings.
"The Open Meetings Act is silent on the issue of the substance of public comment, if public comment is allowed at all," Joan Parker, the general counsel for the Ethics Commission, told The Inter-Mountain Tuesday.
The Bolyard and Miller families told The Inter-Mountain they were not notified of the student overage in the kindergarten classroom until Sept. 11.
"We received a voice message on Sept. 11 telling us that a drawing would be held at the school the following day to see who had to change schools and move to Belington Elementary," Letisha Bolyard, the mother of the girl whose name was drawn out of the hat, told The Inter-Mountain.
Joe Bolyard said that he spoke earlier this month with Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joseph Super, Assistant Superintendent Jeff Kittle and Administrative Services Director Glenn Sweet, seeking help with the situation.
"I was told that my daughter could stay at Junior Elementary until after the board makes its decision," he told The Inter-Mountain.
Bolyard asked board members Monday to allow all three of the out-of-zone children in the kindergarten class to remain in the school and for the school system to absorb the $2,200 fee.
"My daughter is devastated that she cannot continue to attend Junior Elementary," Bolyard said. "I am asking for a motion from the board so my daughter will be allowed to attend."
Miller, father of the child allowed to stay at Junior Elementary School, told the board, "I think the way it was done did not take into consideration the best interests of the children."
Miller said both students have siblings at Junior Elementary. He said he has worked with at-risk kids, and that he felt school officials bungled the situation.
"It would have been better if this was handled before the beginning of school," Miller said. "Changing things now will affect their learning, progress and growth."
Stan Swick, grandfather of the student school officials want to transfer to Belington Elementary, said his granddaughter was devastated about having to leave her school.
"I could see she had been crying and it broke my heart when she said she would be unable to go to her school," Swick said. "She said she did not do anything wrong and cannot understand why she is being punished."
After meeting in executive session on the matter for more than 90 minutes, the board returned to regular session.
"There has been lots of discussion and the situation weighs heavy on the board," Wilkins said. "We want to try to do a fair and complete evaluation of the situation and school policy."
Wilkins then said the out-of-zone student whose name was drawn out of the hat is to be transferred back to her home zone and attend Belington Elementary. He said the student should meet her teacher and get used to the school today, and should attend Belington Elementary Thursday and every subsequent schoolday.
Wilkins said that any other out-of-zone students must follow policy.
After the decision was announced, Joe Bolyard asked to address the board again.
"Evidently I did not make myself clear," he said. "My daughter will not be transferred. She will be a resident of Junior."
Bolyard said his daughter's grandparents live in Junior, and that he and his wife will allow their children to live with their grandparents from Sunday evening through the week, thus making Junior the children's home zone.
"It is very sad this board cannot come up with a way to help my child," he said. "Your negative actions will have a negative impact on the bond and voting. You work for us. This is a black mark on you all."
Bolyard then asked Super for a study showing if any county schools' classrooms contained more than the allowed amount of students per grade.
Super asked Sweet to gather the information requested by Bolyard.
Wilkins thanked the parents for coming and sharing with the board.
"It is hard when items are not resolved in the way we hope," Wilkins said. "We do take this seriously and are being fair to all students involved. We encourage all citizens to attend our board meetings."