Richwood sues BOE over consolidation plans

By Daniel Tyson

SUMMERSVILLE — In an effort to save Richwood’s schools, an injunction to halt consolidation efforts by the Nicholas County School Board and the schools superintendent was filed Wednesday.

The complaint, filed in Nicholas County Circuit Court, claims the county board members and Superintendent Donna Burge-Tetrick meet individually or in small groups to discuss closing and consolidating Richwood high and middle schools between Aug. 1, 2016-Jan. 23, 2017, when the board voted to start the process of shuttering the schools.

Furthermore, the complaint states, shortly after the June 2016 flooding, which destroyed a large portion of Richwood, including the its two schools, the defendants stated they intended to keep the institutions open. Since then, the defendants announced plans to demolish the schools and build a consolidated school in Summersville, according to the complaint.
The BOE and Tetrick failed to notify the public nor did they permit the public to observe or participate in those discussions, the complaint states.

At the January meeting, Tetrick recommended combining five schools, those in Richwood, Nicholas County High School and the county’s Career and Technical Center, into one educational campus.

The lawsuit states the defendants have not explained their decision to start the consolidation process. nor made available to the public “meaningful information” about the possible consolidation.

By communicating among themselves in private the BOE and Tetrick “intentionally attempted to evade and negate” the requirements of the state’s Open Governmental Proceedings Act, the complaint states.

Additionally, the six-page complaint states, the BOE and Tetrick failed to inform the public about amending the county school’s Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plans.

Without informing the public, the West Virginia Board of Education and the state’s School Building Authority about amending the CEFP, the defendants violated state law, the suit charges.

Standing on the Nicholas County Courthouse steps Wednesday afternoon, a plaintiff, Tiffany Russell, said the centerpiece of any community is its schools.
“We are filing this complaint because there is evidence that facts and information regarding the rebuilding of the flooded schools has not been discussed openly …” she said.

She continued that the plaintiffs believe the state’s sunshine laws were violated and any action by the BOE to implement consolidation is invalid.

A call to Gus Penix, president of the board of education, went unreturned Wednesday.

The plaintiffs are represented by Robert Bastress Jr., a law professor at West Virginia University.

— Email: dtyson@register-herald.com