W.Va. Board of Education drops proposal for private-school sports conference

CHARLESTON — A proposal by West Virginia high school principals and athletic directors to lump eight private schools into a separate classification was rejected by the state Board of Education in a 6-1 vote June 14.

Board members nixed the measure before it went out for a 30-day comment period.

Fans and administrators at Class A public schools have long complained about the advantages private schools enjoy. Wheeling Central has won nine football state titles since 2000, and private schools have reached the Class A baseball championship game in six of the past eight years. The Class A basketball dominance is clear with private schools owning 17 boys’ basketball titles across the past two decades, and 28 of the previous 31 girls’ championships.

Bernie Dolan, executive director of the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission, said the SSAC’s counsel warned of legal issues with the proposal, which principals and athletic directors nonetheless approved during a 100-24 vote this spring.

“Personally, I spoke against it,” Dolan told the state BOE. “I had my legal counsel come and speak against it, and they still voted it in.”

Heather Hutchens, general counsel for the state Department of Education, also cautioned the BOE about legal ramifications.

“There would only be eight schools in the classification and all of those schools are religiously affiliated schools,” Hutchens said. “I think it makes it certainly look as though we are treating them differently because of that, even if that wasn’t the intention.”

Trinity Christian is the only Morgantown-area private school that would gave been affected.

The others are Madonna, Wheeling Central Catholic, Charleston Catholic, Huntington St. Joseph, Notre Dame, Parkersburg Catholic and Greater Beckley Christian.

State School Superintendent Dr. Steve Paine said he had spoken to some principals who knew the proposal was unlikely to gain approval. “They don’t expect you to approve it. They expect it to go down,” Paine told the board. “I don’t know why they brought it up.”

The motion to reject was made by board member Debra Sullivan, who retired as the principal at Charleston Catholic High School in 2014, after 28 years in the position. She was appointed to the state board by Gov. Jim Justice last year.

Sullivan urged the SSAC to explore other reclassification options, which Dolan said will soon be discussed.

“I’m sure the schools across the state are glad you are considering other ways,” Sullivan said. “This system has been in place a long, long time and I’m sure there are other models that you are discovering.”

Paine said Dolan is in a “precarious situation” with member schools bringing proposals but the state school board having the final authority on SSAC rules.

“Sometimes [SSAC member schools] think they should be the law of the land, but that section of code indicates that ultimate approval of their rules rests with the state Board of Education,” Paine said.

Some 27 other proposed SSAC rule changes are headed for a 30-day comment period, including an option for schools to play up one class in designated sports. The current rule obligates every sport at a school to compete at a higher classification if the school chooses to move up.

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