CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Supporters of deposed state schools Superintendent Jorea Marple rallied Tuesday night in Charleston to demand an explanation for her firing and to call on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to remove five members from the state Board of Education, including former first lady Gayle Manchin.
The West Virginia Education Association hosted a candlelight vigil in front of its Quarrier Street headquarters. About 150 people attended, according to estimates.
Marple supporters carried candles and rallied following the state board's abrupt decision to fire the superintendent last week.
Earlier in the day, Tomblin's administration vowed not to let the situation distract the governor from his desire to reform the state's underperforming school system.
"This does not distract and absolutely cannot distract from our focus on the education audit," Tomblin spokeswoman Amy Shuler Goodwin said Tuesday afternoon.
The Governor's Office paid $750,000 for an audit of the education system. The audit, which was first proposed by former Gov. Joe Manchin, was completed nearly a year ago, but little action has been taken on it so far.
But supporters of Marple are trying to spill the issue into Tomblin's lap.
"Remove the gang of five," the crowd in front of the WVEA headquarters chanted twice Tuesday night after WVEA President Dale Lee spoke the phrase.
The WVEA accuses a five-member faction on the Board of Education of forcing Marple's ouster. According to the theory, the faction includes members with ties to U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and his wife, Gayle, a board member.
During this year's Senate race, Manchin's Republican challenger, John Raese, accused Manchin of being part of an anti-coal "gang of four."
Marple is married to Attorney General Darrell McGraw, who lost the Nov. 6 election just a little more than a week before his wife was forced from her job.
Gayle Manchin and others deny Marple's ouster was politically motivated.
But protestors at the WVEA vigil didn't stop at blaming Manchin: they want Tomblin to get rid of the five board members who voted to can Marple.