Eric Douglas Published

KCS Sued By School Counselor For Rights Violations

Students at desks taking a standardized testVectorfusionart/Adobe Stock

A school guidance counselor from Belle has sued the Kanawha County Board of Education and Superintendent Thomas F. Williams alleging the defendants violated her first amendment rights. 

Chelena McCoy filed a complaint through her attorney in Kanawha Circuit Court asking for injunctive relief and damages for violation of her first amendment rights along with her protection from retaliatory and discriminatory actions under the West Virginia Whistleblower law. 

The complaint stems from temporary policy changes around the West Virginia General Summative Assessment (WVGSA), also known as annual standardized tests. The U.S. Department of Education requires a 95 percent test participation rate from students. 

In 2020, these tests were canceled due to the pandemic. In 2021, the school system again required the test and the USDOE allowed a waiver from the 95 percent participation rate and instructed the county to offer various safe testing options for students. 

According to the complaint, parents of students who chose to have their students learn remotely during the pandemic became concerned about sending their students into the school for the test, but they had not been informed of their rights to ask for safe testing alternatives.

McCoy asked to notify these parents of their options, but according to the lawsuit “Danielle Burke, Belle’s Principal, and Jon Duffy, Director of Counseling and Testing informed McCoy that she could not do so. Duffy said it was their policy not to preemptively share the availability of testing alternatives for fear it could lower test participation rates, not just that year, but also in future years when accountability standards are reinstated.”

McCoy then reached out to the news media to get the information out. WCHS-TV ran a story on the issue on April 19, 2021 with “interviews with McCoy and Duffy. In the story, Duffy conceded that children were not required to take the test.”

On April 27, 2021, McCoy received a formal letter of reprimand for allegedly providing inaccurate information to the news media. 

According to the lawsuit, “McCoy was later informed by the Board that the letter of reprimand would go into the Board’s personnel file, the letter would follow her within and outside the Kanawha County Schools, including school systems in other states, and that McCoy could face further disciplinary action if there were future infractions.

“The letter of reprimand was also requested by both licensing agencies for school counselors, the West Virginia Department of Education and the National Board of Certified Counselors. Both licensing agencies also requested that McCoy explain in writing her shortcomings and failures as it related to the receipt of the reprimand received by Kanawha County Schools.” 

In a brief email, Williams declined to comment on the lawsuit. 

Through her attorney Hoyt Glazer, McCoy issued the following statement: 

“My case is about the public’s right to complete and truthful information and the right of teachers and school counselors to be honest; it is about a school counselor’s ethical obligation to protect the public when a school board opts to place it’s narrow self-interest above the public welfare by suppressing information that the public has a right to know; it is about the right of public employees to be free from harassment, abuse, and retaliation for sharing factual information that the board may deem unflattering or harmful to them; and it is about basic democratic principles such as free speech and the government’s obligation to serve the people and not itself.”