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Board of Education staff action discussed by JCC

By Toni Milbourne - For the Chronicle | Jan 22, 2021


CHARLES TOWN — The Jefferson County Commission heard comments from several members of the public last Thursday, following the addition of an agenda item pertaining to the Jefferson County Schools superintendent and disciplinary actions taken against two bus drivers.

Commissioner Steve Stolipher added an item to the agenda, calling for a discussion on the procedure for removal of county, school district and municipal officers having fixed terms pursuant to W. Va. Code 6-6-7.

The addition of the item followed action taken by Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson last week, when she suspended two bus drivers, following a complaint that the two had attended the rally in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6 that turned violent. Since that time, both individuals have been cleared of any potential wrongdoing, and have filed a civil rights violation suit against Gibson in federal court.

The West Virginia Code referenced by Stolipher in his agenda item allows the JCC to work to remove any person holding any office, including a board of education office, for “official misconduct, neglect of duty, incompetence or for any of the causes or on any of the grounds provided by any other statute.”

Stolipher had voiced his opinion, following Gibson’s suspension of the two bus drivers, that she had overstepped and violated the first amendment rights of the two employees.

Several individuals made public comment in support of Gibson’s actions, including former county commissioner Lyn Widmyer.

“I applaud the school board for investigating reports that employees were at the Capitol,” Widmyer said. “I am concerned that Mr. Stolipher put this on the agenda before getting the findings, and he’s not interested in the due process of the board of education.”

Similar sentiments were echoed, both verbally and in writing, by several others who supported Gibson’s investigation into individuals who attended the rally in Washington.

“A letter was sent out to several individuals, after it was discovered they had attended a riot and insurrection in D.C.,” said Susan Pipes, of Charles Town. “Bondy Shay Gibson did what she should have done to ensure policy was being followed.”

Regina Smith, of Kearneysville, applauded Stolipher’s move to evaluate the code section.

“I am appalled that two employees of our school system have been discriminated against due to their political views,” Smith wrote in a formal comment to the governing body. “I don’t care what the political persuasion of our superintendent is, but I expect her to do her job, which is not political activism. This was an attempt to use her power within our school system to intimidate persons under her authority, simply because of their political beliefs.”

The JCC entered executive session to discuss the agenda item after hearing from county attorney Nathan Cochran, who advised the commissioners he could not represent them on the issue, nor could anyone from the prosecutor’s office, because of a state code allowing the prosecutor’s office to represent both the commission and the board of education. The county does have an attorney on retainer for other issues, whom they met with in the executive session.

Just prior to entering executive session, JCC President Josh Compton expressed his opinion.

“I generally don’t like the Jefferson County Commission to get involved with the board of education,” Compton said. “But, the board of education needs to have a serious come-to-Jesus moment and get their house in order.”

No action was taken on the issue when the executive session ended.