The West Virginia Board of Education on Wednesday ordered the state Department of Education to review the Lincoln County school system after a report on issues at Guyan Valley Middle.
State BOE President Dave Perry said a student killed herself, generating complaints to the education department that contributed to the department doing an on-site review of Guyan Valley in January.
“They had a non-certified counselor and it would appear to a certain degree that the student was not permitted or allowed access to counseling services,” Perry said.
“Absent of the report, I don’t think Lincoln County Schools would have properly addressed the situation, absent of the team going in,” he said.
The review puts the Lincoln school system in jeopardy of a takeover by the state. Were that to occur, the locally elected board of education would have its power seized by the state school board, a collection of gubernatorial appointees confirmed by the West Virginia Senate. No county school system is under state control. However, Lincoln spent a dozen years under state control, regaining independence in 2012.
A report from the January review was presented Wednesday to the board.
The state BOE spent about 21/2 hours behind closed doors Wednesday, including part of that time with Lincoln Superintendent Jeff Midkiff and county school board President Steve Priestley.
After the board emerged from what was its second round of the closed session, it passed a motion saying it is “gravely concerned at the findings in this report and is likewise concerned that similar conditions could be present in other schools in Lincoln County.”
“The Board also questions the capacity of the [Lincoln] central office to address the deficiencies at Guyan Valley Middle School and in the county as a whole,” the state said in its official motions. It then ordered the countywide review and referred the Guyan Valley Middle report’s findings for possible action against the certification of one or more unnamed county employees.
All these motions passed 8-0, with Tom Campbell the only state board member absent.
The principal at the time of the Guyan Valley Middle issues, Priestley said, was Johnnalynn Davis, whom the Gazette-Mail was unable to reach Wednesday evening.
“Barriers instituted by the principal prohibit students from receiving services from the acting counselor and the social worker,” the report states. “Students are not permitted to approach the counselor or social worker to ask for assistance.”
Instead, the report says, students were required to complete intrusive forms that were sent to the principal, who then determined if students could see the counselor or social worker. More than half of the staff members interviewed by the department said the principal routinely denied this access.
The report also says the social worker has been “prohibited from providing services to students,” and the principal often questioned students about what they talked to the social worker about — and, sometimes, disciplined them for it.
“The social worker was assigned extra duties, for example; changing student diapers and multiple lunch and breakfast duties,” the report said, preventing time to help students with their social-emotional needs.
“The acting counselor does not and has never held the credentials required to coordinate a comprehensive school counseling program,” the report also says. A former counselor also reported that the principal regularly interrupted counseling sessions to force students to return to class.
Also, the report says, “school staff have an extreme fear of retaliation from the principal” and “an extraordinary number of teachers reported being yelled at or observing colleagues, substitutes or students being yelled at by the principal in a berating manner in front of other staff and students.” Numerous parents also complained of the principal’s behavior, the report says.
The report also includes numerous other findings of violations regarding special education, ensuring private student records are kept private and other things.
Priestley said he was taken aback by some of the issues found by the review of Guyan Valley, but said he thinks the situation there is unique.
“I really don’t see that there are pervasive issues that go throughout our whole county,” he said.