MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — By the end of March, administrators with Monongalia County Schools anticipate the doors will open on a new Division of Juvenile Services Youth Report Center in Morgantown.
Parents in the neighborhood where the state’s thirteenth Youth Reporting Center will open are less than thrilled.
“Unfortunately, this would be something that very well may end in court because the superintendent and assistant superintendent seem to be somewhat adamant in our discussion they have the authority to do this,” answered Frank Oliverio, attorney and parent in the Suncrest neighborhood.
The West Virginia Department of Education, the local school system and the Division of Juvenile Services entered into an agreement that was discussed at the Monongalia County School Board’s Jan. 24 meeting.
A release Feb. 9, a day after the posting of an online petition against the youth center, included an overview of the Monday through Friday, 12-month program.
“For students who have veered off the standard course, this program offers educational options and wrap-around services to get them on track to graduate,” according to Jacob Green, special assistant to the WVDE’s Chief Career and Technical Officer.
Monongalia County’s Deputy Superintendent Donna Talerico added more about the collaboration in an interview with Morgantown AM on MetroNews affiliate WAJR.
“The age range for the students could be, for assistance over there, anywhere from 12 to 18. The program is such that it is an educational program. The state department of education is hiring two teachers for us.”
“Over there” is the former Suncrest Primary School left vacant in January when students and staff moved into a new Suncrest Elementary School.
That is also where the fight begins for community members opposed to the center for minors who have committed crimes or misdemeanor offenses, been placed on improvement or probation by the courts or are directly sentenced to attend the youth reporting center.
“This deed has restrictions and covenants in place that would prevent almost anything but a primary school at this facility,” noted Oliverio.
A 1925 deed allows “the Board of Education for the District of Morgan” the use of .958 acre of land along Junior Avenue as long as it is “used for the purpose of a school building for instructing therein children of legal age who live in the Morgan District”.
“We believe the recommendation that we put out there is for a school. Granted, it’s a non-traditional type of school we certainly understand that. It’s not the traditional K-5, K-6 configuration. But, it still will be school, it still will be students that are learning, they’ll still have that opportunity for an educational program,” expanded Frank Devono, Monongalia County Schools Superintendent.
According to the terms of the land use agreement, if the school system violates parameters laid out in 1925, the property would return to the owner, Monongahela Development Community.
“The development group does not exist anymore. Part of the deed basically says if doesn’t and we no longer use it as a school it would have to go to a trustee appointed by the court and the trustee would decide the use of that property,” Devono explained.
Oliverio said he and other parents question if the center meets the “legal age” requirement in the deed along with restrictions on who can attend the center.
“Now, this is where it gets into the sticky wicket,” Oliverio said before quoting from the deed. “And who live in the Morgan district and live within proximity to said property and be used by the board of education.”
The memorandum of understanding regarding the Youth Report Center reads that the Division of Juvenile Services is responsible for installation, maintenance and payment of all utilities associated with the programs except phone service. It further states the Division of Juvenile Services will be responsible for custodial services at the center while the state education department and local school system provides instructional materials.
Talerico said the agreement with the Division of Juvenile Services allows students access to services the county can’t provide and could boost high school completion rates.
“They provide counseling, intervention services, the kinds of support sometimes children and families need because they may be in crisis. Our goal in the school system is to help everyone become a graduate.”
That’s a quick turnaround for families, and Oliverio, who would rather see the facility elsewhere.
“There are many, many places throughout the county and even throughout Suncrest that would be fine.”
According to administrators, Suncrest Primary School would be a temporary home to the Mon County Youth Outreach Center.