Bowles Rice is a leader among law firms in serving school boards, regional educational service agencies and multi-county vocational centers throughout West Virginia. We have represented all 55 of the state’s public school districts, serve as consultants to other lawyers who represent county boards of education and are counsel to the West Virginia School Boards Association.
School board members across West Virginia know us as the lawyers who teach the “school law” segment of the required orientation for new school board members. Our firm regularly participates in statewide video conferences and workshops for elected school board officials. We conduct in-service programs for administrators, teachers, and service personnel.
In the past year, we addressed the West Virginia School Boards Association, the Center for Professional Development's Principals' Academy, the West Virginia Association of School Administrators, the West Virginia Association of School Business Officials, the West Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals, the West Virginia Council of Administrators of Special Education, the West Virginia School Personnel Association, the West Virginia Executive Secretaries Association, the West Virginia Prevention Resource Officers, the West Virginia Adult Education Association, the West Virginia Pupil Transportation Association and West Virginia Department of Education conferences, among others.
Bowles Rice is a “full service” law firm, performing all of the services which school boards, RESAs, and multi-county vocational centers require.
We regularly advise and represent school clients on the full spectrum of personnel issues, including hiring, employee benefits, seniority, extra assignments, transfers, reductions in force, discipline and hearings. We practice at all levels of the grievance procedure, defending grievance appeals in the West Virginia Education and State Employees Grievance Board, the circuit courts and the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals
Our practice covers the legal aspects of special education. We consult on evaluation, eligibility, IEP, and “related service” issues. The firm handles due process hearings, appeals and trials. Our attorneys work closely with special education directors throughout the state to develop solutions to the problems they face on a daily basis.
School districts turn to us for representation and advice about student discipline, citizen appeals, constitutional questions and finance. We draft and review policies and contracts. Our firm often deals with the Governmental Ethics Act, Open Governmental Proceedings Act, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, Freedom of Information Act and the pecuniary interest statute. We also assist with superintendent selection and contracts.
Bowles Rice attorneys regularly appear in state and federal courts. We have participated in many West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals cases which had substantial impact on education and education law, ranging from the historic cases of Pendleton Citizens for Community Schools v. Marockie
(rural school consolidation), Winkler v. State School Building Authority
(SBA bonds), Phillip Leon M. v. Greenbrier County Board of Education
(student expulsions), Triggs v. Berkeley County Board of Education
(professional seniority), Stewart v. Alsop
(venue of actions against State Board), State ex rel Board of Education of Kanawha County v. Caperton
(governor’s restoration of budget cuts), and Byrd v. Mercer County Board of Education
(excess levies), to Boner v. Kanawha County Board of Education
(independent contractors), Lincoln County Board of Education v. Adkins
(planning periods), Baker v. Hancock County Board of Education
(continuing versus probationary contracts), Keith D. v. Ball
(student discipline), Flint v. Harrison County Board of Education
(uniformity of employee benefits), State ex rel. Melchiori v. Board of Education of County of Marshall
(professional RIF “bumping”), Brown v. Wood County Board of Education
(evaluations), Ronnie Lee S. v. Mingo County Board of Education
(exhaustion of IDEA remedies), Hanson v. Mineral County Board of Education
(settlement agreements between school boards and employees), and Boards of Education v. Public Employees Insurance Agency
We take pride in representing school boards in precedent-setting cases in federal court, such as Peck v. Upshur County Board of Education
(religious literature in schools), Doe v. Alfred
(due process procedures), Thomas v. Staats
(special education appeals), and Bragg v. Swanson
Our Education Group
Six Bowles Rice lawyers, Greg Bailey in Morgantown, Rick Boothby in Parkersburg, Dana Daughetee Fohl in Lexington and Howard Seufer, Jr., Rebecca Tinder and Michael Cary in Charleston, are the core of the firm's Education Group. With the help of attorney Kim Croyle, attorney Ashley Hardesty Odell, legal assistant Dianne Wolfe, and an experienced staff, these lawyers are able to devote their practices to the unique needs of school districts. Dozens of the firm's other attorneys assist the Education Law Group on specific issues and projects..
Our core group includes a former public schools teacher (Rick Boothby), a past general counsel to the West Virginia State Board of Education (Rebecca Tinder), the former in-house counsel to West Virginia’s largest public school district (Greg Bailey), and a leader of the Education Alliance, West Virginia’s statewide public education fund (Howard Seufer). To keep abreast of school law developments, our school lawyers regularly attend, and frequently teach, programs on school law subjects. Bowles Rice also maintains a large collection of school law research materials, including our own computer databases.
The firm’s education lawyers are all members of the National School Boards Association’s Council of School Attorneys
and the Education Law Association
. The group members all belong to the Education Law Committee of the West Virginia State Bar
, and several are members of the National Association of College and University Attorneys
The Education Law Group is the point of contact between education clients and our firm. Using state-of-the-art technology which includes video conferencing, a powerful computer network and wireless digital assistants, the firm’s education lawyers and staff are in daily communication with one another to meet the needs of school clients. They arrange their schedules so that clients can always reach a member of the group.
Education clients gain direct access to an array of additional legal services at Bowles Rice. All of the firm’s other practice areas are committed to helping school clients. Among them are the Workers’ Compensation Group, which handles claims for school boards; the Municipal Bond, Economic Development and Public Finance Group, whose members are experienced in school bond issues, levies, lease purchases, and other financing techniques; the Real Estate Group, which represents school boards in acquisitions, eminent domain and the disposition of surplus real estate; and the Labor and Employment Law Group, which lends valuable assistance on Americans with Disabilities Act issues and in EEOC, Human Rights Commission, and wage and hours cases. School clients also have access to the firm’s Government Relations team.
Our Commitment to School Clients
Bowles Rice makes special commitments to public education. Many of our lawyers and staff serve as Read Aloud volunteers. The firm is a partner in education with several schools, including Ripley High School in Jackson County, Burke Street School in Berkeley County, Eastwood Elementary School in Monongalia County and Franklin Elementary Center in Wood County.
We frequently donate our time to help professional education organizations with their work. One of our attorneys is a director emeritus, and another is an officer and director, of the West Virginia Education Alliance. Managing Partner Tom Heywood is a past recipient of the West Virginia Education Association’s Mary Baldwin Friend of Education Award for his leadership and support of education at the state level.
On an individualized level, we are committed to providing excellent service to each school client. Our education lawyers promptly return telephone messages. Because telephone contact is so important in this work, they provide their direct dial, home telephone and cell phone numbers to clients and insist that they use them when pressing questions arise after hours. The members of our Education Law Group use a sophisticated (and confidential) voice mail system that enables them to continuously check for messages when they are away from the office. We keep school clients fully informed about the status of our work.
Our education law attorneys gladly adjust their schedules to meet the urgent needs of school districts, and often work in the evening, when most school boards meet. We are always willing to travel to attend hearings and meetings, but try to identify opportunities to do business via our state-of-the-art video conference network, telephone conference calls, e-mail, or other cost-saving methods for our clients.
We are committed to understanding our clients’ needs. Through our work with school boards, we are well acquainted with the real world in which all school systems operate. However, we have also learned that no two systems are alike. When a school district selects us as its counsel, we take steps to familiarize ourselves with the district. We also get to know the board’s administrative personnel. As a courtesy, our firm alerts the superintendent to major legal developments which affect school board operations.
Finally, we understand that our education clients occupy positions of public trust. Our advice to them recognizes the public consequences of their actions. Bowles Rice attorneys advised school districts during the 1990 teachers’ walkout. We have worked with school boards in times of deficit and in making high profile adjustments such as reductions in force, school closings and consolidations and performance-based accreditation difficulties. We feel that this experience enables us to help school districts with the complex issues they face today.
Bowles Rice is sensitive to the financial concerns of school districts. Before we start to work for an education client, the terms of the arrangement are clearly set forth in an engagement letter for the client’s consideration and signature.
Most of our school clients are accustomed to legal fees based upon hourly rates, with bills reflecting the professional time spent on a project. The firm also bills for out-of-pocket expenses, such as mileage and photocopy charges, and sends monthly itemized statements.
We welcome innovative fee arrangements. For example, experience has proven the benefit of simultaneously performing the same legal service for a group of school districts on a cost-sharing basis. The firm has also worked with RESAs to develop generic policies for their member school districts, sparing each district a separate charge. In a number of court cases, including appeals, we have represented multiple education clients, enabling each to realize the benefit of our work at a pro-rated fee.
Regardless of the fee arrangement, Bowles Rice brings its experience, resources, and efficiencies to every school law assignment. This helps avoid charges to clients for the kinds of “start up” and learning activities which might otherwise be necessary. It also helps to ensure that a school client’s expenditures for legal services are wisely made.