PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. — A lawsuit has been filed in Putnam County against the county’s school district in regards to their decision of keeping school’s open during the two-day work stoppage in February.
William B. Hartman, a Putnam County native and client of Nitro attorney Thomas Peyton, alleges the Putnam County Board of Education violated the Open Governmental Proceedings Act and did not hold a public meeting for their decision to keep Putnam County Schools open for the two-day period.
The lawsuit was filed late Tuesday afternoon in Putnam County Circuit Court.
“The decision should be made in an open setting,” Peyton told MetroNews. “They need to go back and put the issue on an agenda and make the decision in public instead of making it in private, which is what it appears they did.
“School board members who apparently decided to keep schools open can discuss their reasons and make a new decision in public like it should have been done in the first place.”
The act referred to in the lawsuit states that it was enacted to ensure that the proceedings of all public agencies are conducted in an open and public manner, so that the people may be informed about the actions of their governments and retain control over them.
Included in the lawsuit are screenshots of text messages, call logs and emails indicating that the decision was made by board members in a private setting.
Peyton said he acquired the exhibits through a request of the Freedom of Information Act.
“There was not a meeting regarding this particular issue,” Peyton said. “There was a meeting the evening in which the work stoppage was decided upon by the labor organizations, but that meeting was in regards to whether the school board would adopt a resolution to oppose the omnibus education bill that was pending in the legislature.”
Putnam County was the only county in the state to remain open during the work stoppage on February 19 and 20, even though many teachers and school service personnel did not show up.
Superintendent of the district, John Hudson, appeared on MetroNews “Talkline” when the work stoppage ended.
Putnam County School Superintendent, John Hudson, joins @HoppyKercheval to explain his reasoning for keeping his county’s schools open during the 2-day teachers strike. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIAoe1 pic.twitter.com/Rmonle1YCq
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) February 22, 2019
The conversation with Hoppy Kercheval, and another from board member Wade Neal with WCHS-TV are in the lawsuit.
The complaint quotes Hudson and highlights the word “we” multiple times to his response to a question by Kercheval, indicating it was a decision made by the whole board to remain open.
“Potentially this could be strictly a superintendent’s call,” Peyton said. “Which would not be a violation of the open meetings act, if he made the call on his own. His own words indicate that a majority of the board agreed with this decision.”
Peyton added he understands that the issue to open or close schools was a “politically charged issue.”
He said his client is looking for that “politically charged issue” to be discussed in public so they can remain informed as to why Putnam County was the sole district open.