(10/26/2007)
By Bob Weaver

The WV Board of Education said yesterday they just want to move beyond comments made by a state education official, not taking any action against him.

The top official said Lincoln county citizens are "four-wheel ridin', dope-smokin', alcoholic rednecks," describing a lifestyle that impedes student progress.

Kenna Seal, who heads the state Office of Education Performance Audits, was in Lincoln County discussing low test scores, saying the county was 55th in student performance.

Seal and State School Superintendent Steve Paine has blamed the Lincoln school board for the low scores, although the school board has been neutered for seven years while the state operated the system.

Challenge WV coordinator Linda Martin said the take-over has been a dismal failure, closing the county's high schools and creating long bus rides to the new consolidated school at Hamlin.

Seal later denied his statement, saying "I used those words, but I didn't call the people in Lincoln County that. I used those words to describe a lifestyle that I have noticed in places across the country and even in West Virginia."

Seal's effort at damage control fell flat after all the Lincoln school principals and some central office employees signed a letter rebutting Seal's explanation of his comments.

The letter says "It is apparent that we must have attended a different meeting as our accounts are very different than yours Dr. Seal."

Board members voted to issue a letter to Seal and others asking that he not take part in any upcoming audits of the county's school system. The members feel Seal is biased toward the county.

The principals in attendance said Seal "mockingly" asked if they knew about computers, while talking about information available on the Internet.

"You all do know what computers are here in Lincoln County, don't you?" Seal asked officials, according to a Lincoln principal. "He went on to ask if any of us had computers in our schools," said one official.

The principals also allege that Seal said the county had no chance of gaining back control of its' schools next year.

After Seal told state media he was not speaking about Lincoln County, Board of Education member Tom Ramey said "He directed those comments to Lincoln County, specifically," claiming Seal made the same or similar comments at previous meetings.

In a letter to county administrators this week, Seal said the meeting was an "urgent call for action" and that his comments were meant to "inspire" the educators, saying that he was misunderstood.

Ramey said the county invited Seal to come down and talk to school administrators in order to prepare them for an upcoming audit of the school system. "After seven years of state control, the county is trying to get its school system back," Ramey said.

"There have been problems in Lincoln County, but those problems have worsened under state control," Ramey told MetroNews.

Seal says he suspects there's still some sour grapes in Lincoln over the state's takeover.

Members of the State House of Delegates say they support the administrators, teachers, students and parents within the Lincoln County School System.

Delegates Jeff Eldridge, Ralph Rodighiero, Ted Ellis and Lidella Hrutkay have sent a letter to the leader of the West Virginia Office of Education Performance Audits expressing their displeasure.

Part of the letter reads: "We are offended that a state official would make these remarks about any citizens in our state. We have to deal with the media using this stereotype of West Virginians. We certainly should not have our state officials using the same labels on our citizens."

The state Board of Education met behind closed doors to discuss Seal's comments.

After a two-hour executive session to discuss the controversy, the State Board of Education president Delores Cook came back with a short statement that did not address Seal specifically: "We are anxious to move past this event and continue with the important work of ensuring the students of Lincoln County receive a high-quality education to prepare them for life in the 21st century."

Following that meeting, Seal continued to say his comments were misinterpreted, saying "I apologize if words were taken out of context and if I, in any way, contributed to someone thinking that I offended someone."

Ramey said virtually everyone at the meeting is on-record about Seal's comments. "Based on what Dr. Seal said about Lincoln County, he is no longer welcome in Lincoln County as far as I'm concerned," he said.

Ramey said Seal still hasn't apologized for what he said, only that he's sorry it upset someone.

Ramey concluded "For the state school board to continue to brush the remarks under the rug is insulting."


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