[Nfbwv-talk] Text of Updated Keller Story

Ed McDonald ed at eioproductions.com
Sat Nov 18 15:54:40 UTC 2017

In case link in previous message did not work, here is the text of the story:

The West Virginia Board of Education unanimously voted Friday, without explanation, to immediately fire state Schools for the Deaf and the Blind Superintendent Martin Keller Jr.

Keller's Martinsburg-based attorney, Christine Glover, said Keller will file a federal lawsuit to get his job back and seek punitive damages. Keller said it would be against state schools Superintendent Steve Paine.

Glover, who said she began representing Keller on Thursday, said the lawsuit's claims might include that the firing allegedly was in retaliation for Keller not taking an action that would have resulted in the Romney schools closing. She also said the claims might include an allegation that Paine discriminated against Keller because he's deaf.

The state school board hired Keller, in a voice vote with no nays heard, in August 2015 at an annual salary of $110,000. State education officials have said they believe he's the first deaf superintendent in the schools' history, which stretches back to 1870.

Kristin Anderson, the West Virginia Department of Education's communications director, said that, to her knowledge, the department and board aren't planning to close the school or move it. She declined comment on Keller's allegations regarding retaliation and other issues because "it's a personnel matter."

Glover said Friday's "hearing" supposedly was about Keller allegedly being untruthful while applying for the job. She sent the Gazette-Mail a message from Keller in which he writes, "I understand that the Board is considering my termination due to their belief that I was untruthful" in answering "no" to the application question "Have you ever been dismissed or asked to resign from any employment?"

"I was then informed that my departure from the Georgia School for the Deaf was in question," Keller said. "This was not the result of punitive action, and references no misconduct."

He wrote that he was sent another document he had never seen regarding the end of his employment in Georgia, "and it is the only one that refers to the separation notice as a 'termination.' "

Meghan Frick, communications director for the Georgia Department of Education, said Friday afternoon that Keller involuntarily left a less-than-a-year-long stint as the Georgia school's assistant director of instruction. Frick also called it a "termination," but she said further information on the possible reasoning would require filing an open-records request and more time to provide answers.

"My supervisor had been made aware, despite my efforts, that I was seeking employment elsewhere and was interested in accepting a vacant position, which I did indeed move into," Keller wrote of his time in Georgia. "I saw this notice of separation of their acknowledgment of this information and found, and still find, it to have a different meaning than dismissal. The question, again asks of dismissal or requested resignation. To me, and I believe many others, this has a negative connotation which implies punitive action."

Four people asked the board before its vote to keep Keller. Two of the speakers, Ruby Losh, president of the West Virginia School for the Deaf Alumni Association, and Marcus Soulsby, treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia, said their organizations support Keller.

"Students here have excelled because of his presence," Losh said. "Having Dr. Keller here provides us with access to a deaf leader."

The board went into closed session for about an hour, with members claiming it was allowable because of an exception from the open-meetings law for personnel matters.

Board Vice President Dave Perry said the closed session was "at the request of Dr. Keller." Perry said he asked Keller during the meeting if he'd like to have the closed session opened to the public but that Keller declined.

After Keller's firing, the board appointed current Chief Financial Officer Mark Gandolfi and School for the Blind Principal Jamie McBride-Vittorio to, as Anderson put it, "assume all administrative and educational duties until such time that a new Superintendent is hired."

"I was not surprised," Keller said after his firing, "because I knew that this was retaliation on [Paine's] part. I have strong evidence that I will share later. I'm going to be filing a complaint, a retaliation complaint against Dr. Paine at the federal level. It is not over and you will understand."

Paine was mum on the issue.

"I have no comment," he said, "It's a personnel issue."

Glover said videos of interviews of Keller by Paine show discrimination, saying they show Paine couldn't understand why Keller couldn't speak without using an interpreter. She also said they show Paine making "very inappropriate comments." She said she didn't know why the interviews were conducted.

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