Pocahontas leaders change student suspensions to unexcused absences

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

Pocahontas County Schools Superintendent Lynne Bostic wrote a letter on Wednesday to parents regarding students suspended for protesting academic cuts at their school. She informed them that the suspensions would not be recorded on their records and would instead be recorded as unexcused absences.

“Our administration is hopeful that this good faith gesture will allow a return to some normalcy,” she said.

Bostic emphasized that while students have a right to free speech, their protests “materially or substantially interferes with the school’s operations.”

“The student’s concerns to date have been heard, and those concerns will be considered by the Board among other facts when recommendations are presented to the Board in the future,” she continued.

The letter comes some 24 hours after dozens of students, including student council leaders and the student representative to the Board, Riley Grey, were suspended for walking out of class in opposition to proposed academic cuts. Those students did not attend school Wednesday, as they were serving a one day out-of-school suspension. However, they did appear outside the school and in Marlinton with signs conveying their support for maintaining academic programs.

Dozens of students spoke at the Board meeting on Tuesday night. County administrators contended that suspended students could not speak to the Board as they were on school grounds for an extracurricular event while suspended. They asked a sheriff’s deputy to remove at least one student, Ramona Hardy, but the deputy refused saying he could not do so without documentation, which they could not provide at the time.

Board President Sue Hollandsworth responded to a request for comment about the suspensions and academic cuts on Tuesday afternoon via email saying, “It is not appropriate for me to respond at this time.”

The letter from Bostic marks an effort to calm the waters and ease tensions in the community. But the heart of the matter, what academic cuts are being proposed and when they will be made official, remains unknown. Board members agreed to continue talking in budget sessions at the end of their meeting this week.

Ramona Hardy and Riley Grey spread their message of wanting to maintain academic programs and positions in a Facebook live video from outside the school on Monday.

”I feel as if our peaceful protest wasn’t much of a disruption,” said student Riley Grey. “But my student body and I are thankful the suspensions will not be put on our records.”

In the meantime, the students plan to keep spreading their message, speaking out in favor of keeping their academic programs and teachers in place.

Prior to the letter’s arrival, half planned to head back to school on Thursday to catch up on the work they’d missed while the other half stayed out to spread their message. Pocahontas students begin spring break on Friday.

“I am hopeful that when we return from spring break our students will return to the classroom,” Bostic said in her letter.

Students tell The RealWV they want nothing more than to return to their classrooms, but they will only do so when they feel their concerns have been acted upon. “We don’t want to give up any academic opportunities we have now,” Grey says.

Stay tuned to RealWV for updates.

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