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Intermediate Court of Appeals hears Challenge Academy case

CHARLESTON — A former candidate at the Mountaineer Challenge Academy is trying to get a jury trial on claims that he was not properly cared for during his short time at the Kingwood-based academy, which is operated by the West Virginia National Guard.

The case was argued before the state’s Intermediate Court of Appeals Wednesday. The plaintiffs are appealing a lower court ruling that found in favor of the academy on summary judgment, saying it had immunity from the lawsuit because the claims were not proven.

Logan County resident Jason Ryan Moorhead went to the Mountaineer Challenge Academy in 2015. He claims he was injured during the acclimation period because a supervisor failed to enforce a rule on how applicants are to exit their bunkbeds.

The instruction was those on the top bunks are to turn around and slide down on their stomachs.

Moorhead’s attorney Steve New argued Wednesday that Moorhead was hurt when he jumped feet first onto a concrete floor at reveille and the action wasn’t corrected by an academy official.

“They were dismounting the bunks in an improper manner and we contend that the cadre did not have the discretion to ignore this,” New said.

Moorhead said he hurt himself and the Challenge Academy took him to see doctors. New said there was later proof that the jump enhanced a previous injury.

MCA’s attorney Omar Ahmad told the ICA Moorhead was checked out by medical professionals who didn’t find much wrong. Ahmad said it was soreness more than anything else.

“It was their knowledge that Mr. Moorhead, unfortunately, was simply exhibiting a non-motivational approach to the program,” Ahmad argued.

Moorhead was kicked out of the program a short time later.

New said Mountaineer Challenge Academy is an alternative school and under obligation to protect its students just like any other public school in West Virginia. He said his client was not protected.

“These children are entitled to a safe environment while they are at the Mountaineer Challenge Academy. That didn’t happen here and that’s why we believe this case should go to a jury for resolution,” New said.

Ahmad said MCA is not a school program.

“The Mountaineer Challenge Academy is not under the purview of any board of education or a superintendent in the state at the state level or the local level,” Ahmad told the Court.

After his dismissal from the academy, Moorhead returned to Logan County where he successfully graduated from high school.

The ICA, including Chief Judge Dan Greear, Judge Thomas Scarr and Judge Charles Lorensen, will make a decision on the case later this year.