Monongalia County commissioner sues school board - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Monongalia County commissioner sues school board

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A Monongalia County commissioner who also serves as a guidance counselor says the school board and its members are interfering with his right to attend commission meetings.  

Thomas Bloom originally filed his case in Monongalia County Circuit Court against the Monongalia County Board of Education, Barbara L. Parsons, Michael L. Kelly, Ron Lytle, Nancy Walker, Clarence Harvey Jr. and Frank M. Devono.

His suit asserts violations of his First Amendment rights and his right to participate in government. He requests the court to stop defendants from interfering with his right to attend meetings and to order them to grant unpaid leave.

The board's attorney transferred the case April 25 to U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia because the allegations are under the U.S. Constitution.

Bloom, a guidance counselor at Morgantown High School, has served in his career field since 1977. He was first assigned to University High School, where he worked until 2012.

At his former job, Bloom says he had to leave school premises to meet with students and parents and to attend community meetings.

He announced pre-candidacy for county commissioner in 2011 and later announced his candidacy. He says Devono was close friends with his Republican opponent, Joseph Statler. Statler also was a member of the school board from 2002-2012.

However, Bloom said after he announced his candidacy, Devono told the school principal not to allow him to leave school property during his free lunch.

Bloom further alleges the principal told him only she could tell him to leave the school campus. He later was cited for violating school board policies.

Bloom filed a grievance, which was later resolved in a confidential settlement. At a hearing for that grievance, his suit continues, Bloom's counsel told the school board that Bloom thought Devono's actions since December 2011 constituted a pattern "designed to thwart and interfere" with his candidacy for county commissioner.

Bloom says he interviewed with the Morgantown High School principal, where they discussed using unpaid leave so he could attend commission meetings.

After he was elected, he met with the principal again to see how he could work his schedule to fit the commission meetings. He asked to be allowed to use flex time or use unpaid leave in half-day increments.

Bloom said the principal later told him Devono would not allow him to have flex time or to take unpaid leaves of absence in half-day increments. Instead, Bloom said he was advised that he could take unpaid leaves of absence in full-day increments.

Bloom's counsel later sent a formal letter requesting flex time on an average of three hours every other week. This request was denied, Bloom's suit continues.

The county commission temporarily moved its meeting time to 3 p.m. to accommodate Bloom until the matter of flex time was resolved, his suit states.

Bloom's suit asserts he received a letter from the Morgantown High School principal saying he could not take unpaid leave. He said Devono later refused his request in a March 25 letter.

Bloom argues that his absence will not impair his duties as a guidance counselor.

The board of education has not yet filed a response.