CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The state Board of Education fired Jorea Marple again Thursday and decided to conduct a national search for her replacement as state superintendent.
The meeting lasted more than five hours, about half of which was held behind closed doors. More than 50 people packed the room and hallway, with nearly 20 addressing the board in favor of Marple.
At least five Capitol Police officers responded to the scene when there was a near confrontation between an attendee and board member William White. Shouts, scoffs and laughs met a variety of statements from the board.
In a prepared statement, Board President Wade Linger apologized for any mistakes he might have made during the last two weeks and said he now understands why people don't want to serve in state government. After the meeting he declined comment, but in passing called his statement a "mea culpa," or acceptance of blame.
White said he thought the meeting went very well.
"Hopefully this meeting went a long way in healing some of the rifts that have come up over the last couple of weeks between the board and our general public," White said.
It was the second time the board has fired Marple in the last 14 days. Following claims the original move was made behind closed doors and perhaps illegally, the board called the special meeting expressly to discuss Marple's termination and how it would proceed with finding a new state superintendent if necessary.
After a closed-door session that lasted a little less than two hours, the board voted again on Marple's firing.
"As president of the board, it is my position that it is no longer the will of the board to retain Dr. Marple as superintendent, and I recommend her termination and replacement," Linger said.
Board member Mike Green made the motion and White seconded it. Board members White, Green, Linger, Lloyd Jackson, Bob Dunlevy and Gayle Manchin voted in favor of the firing.
As they did before, board members Priscilla Haden and Jenny Phillips voted against.
No board members in attendance at the Nov. 15 meeting changed their votes Thursday. Jackson was not at the first meeting; after Thursday's session, he echoed statements that it was time for a change in leadership.
Marple's firing caused a stir in the education community. The item was not listed on the Nov. 15 agenda, and Mountain State Justice, a Charleston-based public interest law firm, filed a lawsuit with the state Supreme Court arguing the board knowingly violated open meetings laws.
Linger expressly cited concerns about the Open Meetings Act in a Nov. 20 statement. In the statement, Linger said "it is paramount that the public voice continues to be heard."
More than 50 people packed the boardroom Thursday, with more crammed in the hallway and watching the proceedings near the building elevators via an Internet video connection. Of the 20 people who spoke, none said they were in favor of the way the board handled Marple's firing.
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, and Judy Hale, president of the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, called on the board to either reinstate Marple or state specifically why she was fired.
Several retired teachers, including Judy Robinson of Raleigh County and Julian Martin of Charleston, said board members' actions harmed the integrity of the board.
Robinson said the way the board fired Marple made West Virginia again the butt of national jokes, and Martin said the move was "Joe Manchin's revenge on Darrell McGraw." Currently a U.S. senator, Joe Manchin appointed most of the current board members when he was governor.
Marple is married to McGraw, the outgoing state attorney general. Some have alleged Manchin had something to do with Marple's firing, an accusation Manchin, his wife and Linger have denied.
Without mentioning Sen. Manchin, White said after the meeting that it's hurtful for the Board of Education to be considered a "rubber stamp" for anything.
"It really does become somewhat hurtful when somebody talks about an organization such as this, with as much influence as it does, as being a rubber stamp," White said. "I've never been a rubber stamp to anything, as you know. This board doesn't want to be perceived as a rubber stamp as well."
White worked as a senior administrator at Mountain State University, which recently lost its accreditation. He also helped its ex-president, Charles Polk, write a book on leadership.
Marple has repeatedly said she did not know why she was fired. She told the Daily Mail Wednesday she still had not been given a reason. She did not return a message left for her late Thursday.
Linger said the board appreciated the public comments. He then called for an executive session to discuss Marple's termination. Groans could be heard from the public when the suggestion was made.
After coming back from the executive session and voting to fire Marple again, Linger read a statement.
"Providing the reasons for any termination often runs afoul of advice and caution . . . given from the counsel," Linger said during the meeting. "Nonetheless, it is our duty to be as open as possible with the public."
He then listed a "litany" of statistics related to West Virginia student achievement.
West Virginia students trail most states in National Assessment of Education Progress measures, with those scores decreasing in the last decade. The publication "Education Week" recently gave West Virginia an "F" in K-12 achievement. The statewide graduation rate is less than 80 percent, and one in four high school students doesn't graduate on time.