Lawsuit filed over canceled spring break

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By Kate White

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Three Calhoun County school employees are suing the state and county boards of education because school officials canceled their spring break three weeks before it was supposed to happen. 

The lawsuits, filed Monday in Kanawha Circuit Court, also ask a judge to grant an immediate injunction to prevent school officials from changing the calendar, as teachers have made vacation plans and bought plane tickets.

Calhoun County school board members voted Feb. 27 to change the week of March 17-21 from "out of calendar days" to "instructional days" -- effectively eliminating spring break, according to the complaint.

"The universal tradition, custom and practice of Calhoun County, indeed of all the school districts, have been that out of calendar days are not moved or altered once the school year has begun," the complaint states.

"Out of calendar days" are days typically marked off for Thanksgiving, winter holidays and spring break. Those days are uncompensated and don't count toward the 200 days of paid work teachers must have.

The spring break had been planned since Calhoun school board members created the 2013-14 school calendar in May 2013 -- and school employees were told in mid-February that spring break was still on, according to the lawsuits.
The employees say they didn't find out that the state Board of Education had approved the calendar change until March 5.
Last year, state legislators gave county school boards more flexibility to create and modify their calendars, but that law doesn't take effect until July.

One of the employees, Kelly Sampson, says in her lawsuit that she has a nonrefundable plane ticket that cost $750. Another employee, Christina Jones, says in her lawsuit that she's paid about $500 for plane, concert and other entertainment tickets. The third employee, Norma Myers, says she had planned a family vacation to Erie, Pa., with her kids who are home from college.

In their lawsuits, the three employees mention colleagues in similar straits. One school employee, recently diagnosed with cancer, had scheduled a medical procedure, the lawsuits state.

Sampson, Jones and Myers filed separate lawsuits but want their complaints consolidated by a judge. Their lawyer, Charleston attorney Andy Katz, didn't return a phone message Tuesday.

Calhoun Schools Superintendent Roger Propst was out of the office Tuesday, a secretary said.

State Superintendent of Schools Jim Phares said in a statement Tuesday that Calhoun school employees and parents had been told of special arrangements that might be made if the calendar change created conflict with previously scheduled travel plans. 

"We support the rationale of the Calhoun County Board of Education to revise its calendar in order to maximize instructional time and to place instructional days earlier in the school calendar," Phares said. "We believe that the revisions are an effort to best meet students' needs."

Phares also said the change was designed to benefit students and wouldn't require employees to work beyond their contracted 200 days.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Liza Cordiero said it's typical for a county to change its calendar halfway through a school year after determining how many days students have missed and need to make up.

Despite a record number of school days missed, Kanawha County Schools, the state's largest school district, didn't tap into its spring break. Like much of West Virginia, Calhoun County has been affected by a harsh winter. 

The county was not among those affected by the recent water crisis, in which a coal-cleaning chemical leaked into the Elk River and fouled the water supply for 300,000 West Virginia American Water customers.