UPDATE: (9/13/17) 3:00PM:
The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has granted a stay in the Nicholas County School consolidation plan. This means the West Virginia Board of Education does not have to approve the Nicholas County Consolidation plan until the Supreme Court rules in the trial. Judge Duke Bloom's rulings will now be put on hold until a final ruling is made. The State Supreme Court case is set to begin October 3rd.
UPDATE: (9/8/17) 4:30PM:
The West Virginia Board of Education voted to conditionally approved Nicholas County's CEFP (Comprehensive Education Facilities Plan) until the Supreme Court makes a final decision.
The West Virginia Board of Education has requested a temporary administrative stay from this order and has requested that a stay be granted pending the Supreme Court’s final disposition of its appeal by filing a motion with the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
According to a release, the West Virginia Board of Education continues to maintain that it acted in the best interests of the students of Nicholas County and within the scope of its broad constitutional authority.
The Board has unanimously approved a motion to conditionally approve Nicholas County Board of Education's CEFP.— WV Dept of Education (@WVeducation) September 8, 2017
UPDATE (9/5/17) 7:00PM:
A spokeswoman for the West Virginia Board of Education released this statement in regards to Judge Bloom's decision to deny their stay request.
"Today's hearing was a result of the West Virginia Board of Education's request to stay Judge Bloom's ruling. At the ruling this morning, Judge Bloom recessed and ordered both parties to come together to attempt to reach a solution in the matter. Despite the West Virginia Board of Education's attempts to reach a resolution, the Nicholas County Board of Education refused to consider any alternative other than countywide consolidation."
The West Virginia Board of Education is expected to take action in their Thursday or Friday meeting to either approve the consolidation plan, pay a $130-million bond or appeal the decision to the supreme court.
UPDATE (9/5/17) 6:00PM:
Judge Duke Bloom ruled to deny the West Virginia Board of Education's request to stay his ruling while appealing the case to the state Supreme Court. Instead Judge Bloom said the state board must approve the Nicholas County consolidation plan by the end of their meeting Friday. Otherwise, the WVBOE can pay a bond of $130-million. That dollar figure is what Nicholas County Superintendent Donna Burge-Tetrick estimates it would cost to build consolidated schools. This way if the court battle causes Nicholas County to not meet FEMA deadlines and money is lost, the county would still have enough cash to build the consolidated school.
The WVBOE can appeal Judge Bloom's ruling on the stay, to the Supreme Court. WVBOE will already go before the state Supreme Court in an appeal of Judge Bloom's ruling as to the WVBOE's authority to deny consolidation requests. Tuesday the Supreme Court approved a motion to expedite the trial. Arguments will begin in that case on October 3rd.
UPDATE (9/5/17) 4:00PM:
CHARLESTON, WV - Judge Duke Bloom is not baking down from his court ruling forcing the West Virginia Board of Education to approve consolidation in Nicholas County.
According to Judge Bloom, the WV BOE has until Friday to conditionally approve consolidation in Nicholas County, or they will have to pay $130,000,000 bond,
BREAKING: Judge Bloom says WV BOE has until Friday night to give NC BOE conditional approval for consolidation OR pay a $130-mil bond.— WOWK/Alyssa Meisner (@wowkalyssa) September 5, 2017
We will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.
UPDATE (8/24/17) 5:00PM:
CHARLESTON, WV - In an almost unanimous decision, the West Virginia Board of Education voted to appeal a controversial court ruling. On Friday Judge Duke Bloom ruled that the state must approve the Nicholas County consolidation plan. But the state maintains they're acting in the best interest of the students- and they want a second shot at their case.
It's now been 14 months since historic flood waters destroyed Richwood High and Middle Schools, along with Summersville Middle School. But the fight over whether to rebuild all flooded schools and where to put them, remains as divisive as ever. The county says building one consolidated campus will save money and open up academic opportunities for students, but the state board disagrees.
The West Virginia Board of Education voted unanimously, except for one exemption, to take a second swing at their court case over Nicholas County school consolidation.
"I think from the beginning our board did what they thought was in the best interest of all the students of Nicholas County. Today was the first day that they were able to come together as a board to review Judge Bloom's ruling," Kristin Anderson explained. Anderson is the Executive Director of Communications for the West Virginia Department of Education.
The Board decided, along with their attorneys, that they have a Constitutional authority to deny a school district's consolidation plan. For many neighbors in Richwood, it was a welcome decision.
"I don't think the state board of education really had a choice, cause they're here to do what's best for the students of West Virginia and they're looking forward at this point to changing the direction of West Virginia schools," Richwood resident John Estep told 13 News.
The state Board of Ed says previous boards approved consolidation plans, no questions asked. But this Board says they want to take a closer look at proposals, to see if they are really best for the district.
"The other piece is just questioning our state board's constitutional authority, so they're seeking to defend that with this appeal to the State Supreme Court," Anderson explained.
The case will set a state-wide precedent, laying the groundwork for all future school consolidation proposals. So the stakes are high.
"It's a little frustrating that a Judge would only look at the policies that go with the side that he's been on all along. If you look at all of the polices of the state board of education, when you come down to the bottom line in those things- they are to take care of the students first," Estep added.
There isn't much time to get the matter resolved. The county has until December to file paperwork with FEMA.
The Attorney General's Office says they will file the appeal with the state Supreme Court by the end of the week. The state Supreme Court is expected to fast-track the case to be heard in the coming weeks.
View court documents here:
UPDATE (8/24/17 11:50 AM):
CHARLESTON, WV - The West Virginia Board of Education has voted to appeal Judge Bloom's decision to the State Supreme Court.
Everyone voted to appeal except for one member who abstained.
BREAKING: WVBE votes to appeal Judge Bloom's decision to the State Supreme Court. All "yays" & 1 abstain.— WOWK/Alyssa Meisner (@wowkalyssa) August 24, 2017
The WVBE issued the following statement:
“From the beginning of evaluating Nicholas County’s proposed CEFP amendment, the WVBE has focused on the best interest of all students in the county. Our decision was based on what we thought was right and within our constitutional authority as members of the State Board of Education. As such, the WVBE has decided to appeal Judge Bloom’s ruling to the West Virginia Supreme Court.”
Judge Bloom ruled on Friday that the West Virginia Board of Education must approve Nicholas County's consolidation plan.
CHARLESTON, WV - A Judge's ruling could change the future of county and state Board of Education interactions. Kanawha County Judge Duke Bloom ruled the state acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in denying the Nicholas County Board of Education's request to alter its CEFP and consolidate the district. Judge Bloom also stated the state is compelled to approved the Nicholas County plan.
Judge Bloom was tasked with deciding whether the West Virginia Board of Education (WV BOE) rejected the CEFP based on criteria beyond what is required by state law, or if the state has the authority to reject the CEFP if it's in the best interest of students.
The new consolidated campus would cost about $130,000,000 to be paid for with FEMA and state money. The Nicholas County BOE followed the necessary steps before a unanimous vote to approve consolidation and move forward with a new campus. However, in two WV BOE hearings, Nicholas County was denied their request for the reconfiguration.
"During the meeting members of the WVBE asked multiple, detailed questions of speakers regarding various topics including, but not limited to, site selection and site availability for school construction, increased travel time to the proposed consolidated schools, availability of extracurricular activities, plans for dealing with possible student behavioral and attendance problems, impact on the on the affected communities, the availability of FEMA monies for various options and the issues and deadlines associated with the FEMA monies, teacher personnel, and impact on students, " Judge Bloom's ruling read. He argues that these elements go above and beyond what is required of a county when asking the state to consolidate schools.
Judge Bloom's Final Order explains that West Virginia code gives the WVBOE the power to enforce policies created to consolidate schools, in this case Policy 6204. But once that policy was created, Judge Bloom argues that the state cannot then add more requirements that are not specifically outlined in the policy.
"In other words, the NCBOE followed the duly promulgated rules of the State Board for school consolidations and closings. However the State Board rejected the CEFP amendment based upon various, subjective factors not set forth in Policy 6204," Judge Bloom's ruling states.
"... the State Board relied upon arbitrary criteria that the Legislature did not intend them to consider under West Virginia code..." Bloom added.
Judge Bloom pointed to several specific areas where the WVBOE asked the NCBOE to consider criteria beyond what is outlined in Policy 6204, "Here, once more, the WVBE usurped the NCBOE's judgment regarding school configurations."
The WVBE will discuss the litigation at a meeting Thursday.
CHARLESTON, WV - On Friday afternoon, Judge Bloom ruled in favor of the Nicholas County School Board's consolidation plan, saying that the West Virginia State Board of Education overstepped its authority.
Bloom entered his ruling in a paper filing Friday.
Richwood Mayor Bob Baber says that the ruling is "predictable, cold, and calculated. The judge has ruled in favor of legal looting against the folks of Richwood."
"The WV BOE's next regularly scheduled meeting will take place on August 24. I anticipate the board will reflect on Judge Bloom's ruling and provide an update regarding next steps thereafter," said Kristin Anderson, Executive Director of Communications for the WV Board of Education.
We will continue to update this story with information on soon as we receive.