Ohio County BOE Alters Uniform Policy

WHEELING – The Ohio County Board of Education on Monday rescinded a policy stating service personnel can be fired for failure to properly wear their uniforms, and also discussed whether one board member should be allowed to wear a hat during meetings.

Board members voted 3-2 to rescind the uniform firing policy pertaining to child nutrition, custodial, maintenance and transportation employees. Voting against upholding the policy were board president Shane Mallett, Gary Kestner and Tim Birch, while Christine Carder and Sarah Koegler voted to retain it. Koegler was not present at the meeting, but participated by phone.

Ohio County Schools policy has required service workers to wear uniforms while on the job, and states if they fail to do so they can be subject to dismissal from their job.

“May I ask why we’re not going to revisit this policy rather than rescinding it?” Carder asked before the vote.

Birch told her there was already a policy on the books directing all school employees to dress professionally.

Carder said she disagreed with eliminating the uniforms for employees, and Birch said he believed the motion pertained only to the provision stating an employee could be discharged for not wearing a uniform. Mallett and Kestner agreed the intent of rescinding the policy was not to eliminate worker uniforms.

Koegler suggested since their was some confusion over the motion, it be tabled until next meeting and reworked. Her motion was defeated 3-2, with Mallett, Kestner and Birch voting against, and she and Carder voting yes.

Carder requested a clarified policy pertaining to employee uniforms be formulated and brought before the board at their next meeting set for 6 p.m. Aug. 11. Koegler said the matter did need to be clarified before the start of school on Aug. 25.

Jerry Ames, a representative of the West Virginia School Services Workers Association, said service workers with Ohio County Schools began expressing concerns to him about the firing policy last spring. There was no formal meeting on the issue.

School board members approved a request by Wheeling Park High School music teacher Leslie Garrett for an unpaid leave without cause for the 2014-15 school year, and Birch expressed anger the school district was losing Garrett.

“I want to know what is going on,” he said. “I want to know why she is going out. Here’s another nail in the coffin of the music department. For us to have the premier music department in the state going down the toilet like this has got me really burned. I want some answers. I’ve heard so many rumors.”

Birch next said he has also been hearing “some rumblings about me and my hat,” and he asked members to let him know then if they had a problem with it.

“We are going to have serious problems when the kids come back to school,” Carder said. “We have a policy in all of our schools that they not wear their hats in school, and I assure you when the high school students see this they are going to want to do it. And I can also assure you that wearing hats in school totally changes the atmosphere and the whole culture of the school. I don’t think it sets a good example.”

Mallett told members said he wasn’t going to tell employees or fellow school board members how they should dress.

“I’m not in the business of micro-managing or dressing adult individuals,” he said. “I think they can dress themselves. Mr. Birch, in regard to your hat, you’re an elected official. If you want to wear your hat, I have no problems with that.”

Mallett has called for a 2 p.m. press conference today to announce his appointment of a vice president of the school board.