OUR REPUTATION

Bowles Rice attorneys have provided legal services to each of West Virginia’s 55 county boards of education, all of its multi-county career centers, the West Virginia Department of Education, professional associations and educational services cooperatives. U.S. News & World Report's Best Law Firms recognizes Bowles Rice as a Tier 1 law firm in the practice of education law.

Since 1983, we have advised and represented the West Virginia School Board Association as its general counsel. The Association's members know us as the lawyers who teach the “school law” segment of the required orientation for newly elected and appointed county board of education members. We regularly write a column on school law issues for the Association’s newsletter.

Over the past two decades, hundreds of school administrators and their staffs have enrolled in our invitation-only Signature Series Workshops, where they received focused school law instruction in an interactive, small group setting. 

Bowles Rice lawyers are regularly invited to speak at educators’ annual conferences, including statewide meetings of the West Virginia School Board Association, the West Virginia Association of School Administrators, the West Virginia Association of School Human Resource Officials and the West Virginia Association of School Business Officials (follow this link and select "Presentations & Events" for a comprehensive overview). During the summer months, school boards across the state engage us to lead back-to-school workshops for administrators, teachers and service personnel. Policymakers at the state and local levels regularly request our input. On occasion, we address committees of the Legislature on bills affecting public education.

More than 700 school board members, school leaders and their administrative staffs subscribe to our quarterly education law eNewsletter and our annual publication, Highlights of West Virginia Legislation Affecting Public Education.

Bowles Rice has good working relationships with the associations that represent school employees. Our firm's managing partner, Tom Heywood, is a 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.

OUR CAPABILITIES

Bowles Rice offers all the legal services sought by public school districts and other institutions of public education.

Board Organization and Governance

County boards of education rely on our attorneys in:

  • Developing and updating policies;
  • Selecting and working with superintendents;
  • Complying with West Virginia’s Open Meetings and Ethics Acts;
  • Conducting hearings for citizens, employees and students;
  • Filling board vacancies;
  • Providing professional development for board members;
  • Replying to Freedom of Information Act requests;
  • Responding to Office for Civil Rights audits; and
  • Navigating the rules of parliamentary procedure.

We also have a long history of assisting and representing school boards in times of crisis and controversy such as school closings and consolidations, intervention by the State Board of Education, employee work stoppages, fiscal emergencies, natural disasters and, most recently, pandemic.

Business Operations and Finance  

The Bowles Rice Education Law Team is experienced in meeting the legal needs of school districts in fiscal and commercial matters that include:

  • Special (excess) levies, and expenditure of the funds raised;
  • Bond issues and re-financings;
  • Lease-purchase agreements;
  • Energy savings contracts;
  • Purchases of goods and services;
  • Local property tax abatements (PILOT agreements);
  • Expenditures and competitive bids;
  • Casual deficits;
  • Vendor contracts;
  • Audit findings;
  • Depository banks and the investment of funds;
  • School-level accounting procedures; and
  • Nontraditional revenue streams.

We are bond counsel of choice for many school boards, large and small.

Human Resources 

Our lawyers have long advised and represented school district clients on the full spectrum of personnel matters:

  • Filling vacancies in professional and service positions;
  • Assigning, realigning and evaluating employees;
  • Reductions in force and preferred recall;
  • Disciplinary letters and proceedings;
  • Title IX, harassment and discrimination;
  • Investigations;
  • Employee compensation, rights and benefits, including paid and unpaid leave under state and federal law;
  • Unemployment compensation;
  • Accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act;
  • Human Rights and EEOC claims; and
  • Employee lawsuits and grievances.

The Education Law Team has defended county boards of education in more West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board proceedings than anyone else.

Student Services, Rights and Responsibilities

Because student safety and success are the highest priority of every school board, we stand ready to help school districts with issues and projects regarding:

  • Student rights and responsibilities;
  • Enrollment and absences;
  • The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and student privacy;
  • West Virginia’s Safe Schools Act and State Board Policy 4373;
  • Transportation to and from school and special events;
  • Athletics;
  • Student discipline;
  • Title IX, harassment, discrimination and bullying;
  • Prevention Resource Officers;
  • Investigations;
  • Mandatory reporters;
  • Extracurricular and school-sponsored clubs and activities; and
  • Use of technology and social media.

Our practice also covers all the legal aspects of special education. Bowles Rice attorneys work closely with special education directors throughout the state to develop responsible solutions and responses to the issues they confront.

Real Estate and Facilities

We have a long track record helping school districts upgrade, replace and maintain their schools and other facilities. Our firm often provides school officials with advice and representation on;

  • Comprehensive Educational Facilities Plans;
  • School closings, consolidations and mergers;
  • Acquiring real estate;
  • Disposing of unused property;
  • Selecting architects and engineers;
  • Construction-related bids and contracts;
  • Mineral rights;
  • Easements and rights of way; and
  • Construction-related claims and litigation.

Bowles Rice is proud to have helped school boards build and refurbish many schools we see as we travel the state.

Relations with the Community and Other Entities

County boards of education consult with us on a range of opportunities for outreach and collaboration:

  • Intergovernmental agreements;
  • Inter-county schools;
  • Volunteers in the schools;
  • Local School Improvement Councils;
  • Booster clubs and other support organizations;
  • Press releases on high-profile and controversial topics; and
  • Agreements with educational services cooperative.

Litigation

Bowles Rice attorneys regularly appear in state and federal courts. We have participated in many cases with a substantial impact on public education and education law in our state.

OUR EDUCATION LAW GROUP

The members of our Education Law Team are a diverse lot. Our experience in the practice of school law dates back to 1979. Several of our attorneys are licensed classroom teachers. One served on a county board of education and as its president. Two have belonged to the board of directors (one as the board chair) of the nation’s first statewide education fund. Another has experience on the Governing Council of an educational services cooperative. Our lawyers include the former chair of a community and technical college board of governors, individuals recognized by Best Lawyers in America in the area of West Virginia School Law, and lawyers identified by Super Lawyers as Top Rated School & Education attorneys. 

Education Law Team attorneys belong to COSA, which is the National School Boards Association’s Council of School Attorneys, and to the Education Law Committee of the West Virginia State Bar. To keep abreast of school law developments, we attend COSA and other national conferences on school law issues. We also maintain a large database of school law research materials, including some special materials and proprietary databases that, to our knowledge, no other law firm maintains.

Education clients gain direct access to an array of other legal services at Bowles Rice. Like the Education Law Team, all the Bowles Rice practice areas are committed to helping education clients. The practice areas most frequently accessed by county boards of education are listed on this webpage under "Related Practice Areas."

OUR COMMITMENT TO SCHOOL CLIENTS

Bowles Rice actively supports public education. We volunteer hundreds of hours for public education each year. Some attorneys and staff are Read Aloud volunteers. Some mentor students. Still others are instrumental in meeting the firm’s commitments to schools as their Partner in Education. The firm is an active supporter of the Education Alliance and its annual West Virginia Education Summit which serves as a venue for leaders of business, the Legislature, public education and local communities to discuss collaborations to achieve education excellence.

On an individual level, we place a high priority on client access, providing our education clients with convenient ways to contact our attorneys 24/7. The Education Law Team lawyers adjust their schedules to meet the needs of school districts, often working after hours when most school boards meet. Always willing to attend hearings, meetings and trainings in person, we also try to identify opportunities to save travel expense by participating virtually using on-line tools and other cost-saving technologies.

Another emphasis at Bowles Rice is on understanding our clients’ operations.  This helps us identify issues before they mushroom into legal controversies. It also enables our lawyers to offer advice, not in “legalese,” but in practical terms that make sense to our clients.

Our advice also recognizes the public consequences of our clients’ actions. Bowles Rice attorneys advised school districts during the 1990 teachers’ walkout and the 2018 and 2019 school employee work stoppages. We filed suit and sat at the table with state leaders to find a path to relieve school boards of billions of dollars in unfunded OPEB liability. Our lawyers have been in the thick of contentious school closings, the state’s intervention in troubled school systems, budget cuts, difficult reductions-in-force and the occasional, but challenging, crises in board/superintendent relations. These kinds of experiences help us aid school districts with the complex issues they face today.

THE BOWLES RICE SIGNATURE SERIES WORKSHOPS

Bowles Rice produces the invitation-only Signature Series Workshops for West Virginia public education leaders and their staffs. The all-day sessions provide focused legal education in an interactive, small group setting.

Now in their 18th year, our 200+ workshops have taught our guests how to avoid legal missteps, and how to spot and address significant legal issues at an early stage. We continue to cover best practices and practical action steps, arming our guests with explanatory materials, checklists and forms.

Because we restrict group size, attendees have ample time to discuss the issues, ask questions and network with one another. Workshop topics are annually chosen from surveys of school administrators and input from our lawyers who advise and represent school districts. View the full list of workshop titles for 2013-2020, here.

Articles & Alerts

Blog Posts

Representative Published and Memorandum Decisions

  • Miller v. Marion County Board of Education, 2020 WL 7231114 (2020) (untimeliness of grievance complaint)

  • McCann v. Lincoln County Board of Education, 2020 WL 7222890 (2020) (service employee misclassification under faulty local policy)
  • Schade v. West Virginia University, 2019 WL 2406730 (2019) (whistleblower defense)

  • Mayle v. Barbour County Board of Education, 2018 WL 317375 (2018) (filling aide/ECCAT vacancies)
  • Ragione v. The Board of Education of Preston County, 2018 WL 300576 (2018) (litigating unappealed employee grievance)
  • West Virginia Board of Education v. Board of Education of the County of Nicholas, 239 W.Va. 705, 806 S.E.2d 136 (2017) (State Board of Education discretion)
  • Louk v. Board of Education of the County of Braxton, 2017 WL 680457 (2017) (probationary/continuing contracts)
  • Stewart v. Lincoln County Board of Education, 2017 WL 684277 (2017) (service employee misclassification)
  • Straley v. Putnam County Board of Education, 2016 WL 6778919 (2016) (continuing damage/continuing practice)
  • Monongalia County Board of Education v. American Federation of Teachers – West Virginia, AFL-CIO, 238 W.Va. 146, 792 S.E.2d 645 (2016) (RESA interventionists in the schools)
  • Yatauro v. Calhoun County Board of Education, 2016 WL 5030280 (2016) (state-ordered contract reductions without hearings)
  • Lemasters v. Jackson County Board of Education, 2016 WL 2977336 (2016) (teacher duty outside the school day)
  • Grace v. Mingo County Board of Education, 2016 WL 870597 (2016) (reinstating withdrawn grievance)
  • Adkins v. Cabell County Board of Education, 2016 WL 3435749 (2016) (accused felon’s suspension)
  • Sayre v. Mason County Board of Education, 2016 WL 143435 (2016) (lengthening the workday)
  • Ellison v. Fayette County Board of Education, 2015 WL 5125847 (2015) (off-duty employee misconduct)
  • Williams v. Raleigh County Board of Education, 2015 WL 6181485 (2015) (service employee reclassification)
  • Smith v. Berkeley County Board of Education, 2015 WL 7628692 (2015) (administrative fact finding)
  • Staats v. Jackson County Board of Education, 2015 WL 6181438 (2015) (hours worked)
  • Smith v. Berkeley County Board of Education, 2015 WL 2364292 (2015) (unemployment compensation and "other gross conduct")
  • Bowyer v. Fayette County Board of Education, 2014 WL 6607691(2014) (filling aide/autism mentor vacancies)
  • Board of Education of Webster County v. Hanna, 234 W. Va. 196, 764 S.E.2d 356 (2014)  (voluntary resignation without duress)
  • Eisentrout v. Preston County Board of Education, 2013 WL 3242868 (2013) (summer service positions)
  • Patterson v. Board of Education of the County of Raleigh, 231 W.Va. 129, 744 S.E.2d 239 (2013) (uniformity of pay and benefits)
  • Anderson v. Board of Education of the County of Gilmer, 2012 WL 5834898 (2012) (student attendance areas)
  • Shumate v. Raleigh County Board of Education, 2012 WL 4448747 (2012) (filling professional extracurricular assignments)
  • Watkins v. McDowell County Board of Education, 229 W.Va. 500, 729 S.E.2d 822 (2012) (employee discipline)
  • Martin v. Barbour County. Board of Education, 228 W.Va. 238, 719 S.E.2d 406 (2011) (modifying coach compensation)
  • Boards of Education v. Public Employees Insurance Agency, 2011 WL 9373981 (2011) (OPEB)
  • Brown v. Cabell County Board of Education, 714 F.Supp.2d 587 (S.D. W. Va., 2010) (student speech)
  • Alderman v. Pocahontas County Board of Education, 223 W.Va. 431, 675 S.E.2d 907, (2009) (employee speech)
  • State ex rel. Board of Education of County of Putnam v. Beane, 224 W. Va. 31, 680 S.E.2d 46 (2009) (circuit court jurisdiction)
  • Jones v. West Virginia State Board of Education, 218 W.Va. 52, 622 S.E.2d 289 (2005) (homeschooled children and athletics)
  • Bragg v. Swanson, 371 F. Supp. 2d 814 (S.D.W. Va. 2005) (confederate flag t-shirts)
  • Board of Education of the County of Randolph v. Scott, 217 W. Va. 128, 617 S.E.2d 478 (2005) (hiring aides/LPNs)
  • Wines v. Jefferson County Board of Education, 213 W.Va. 379, 582 S.E.2d 826 (2003) (discharging substitutes)
  • City of Benwood v. Board of Education of the County of Marshall, 212 W.Va. 436, 573 S.E.2d 347 (2002) (school closing)
  • State ex rel. McGraw v. Burton, 212 W. Va. 23, 569 S.E.2d 99 (2002) (higher education legal counsel)
  • Baker v. Hancock County Board of Education, 207 W.Va. 513, 534 S.E.2d 378 (2000) (continuing versus probationary contracts)
  • Stewart v. Alsop, 207 W.Va. 430, 533 S.E.2d 362 (2000) (venue of actions against State Board)
  • Flint v. Harrison County Board of Education, 207 W.Va. 251, 531 S.E.2d 76 (1999) (uniformity of employee benefits)
  • Karr v. Board of Education of County of Jackson, 2003 W.Va. 100, 506 S.E.2d 355 (1998) (filling teacher vacancies)
  • Pendleton Citizens for Community Schools v. Marockie, 203 W.Va. 310, 507 S.E.2d 673 (1998) (rural school consolidation)
  • Ronnie Lee S. v. Mingo County Board of Education, 201 W.Va. 667, 500 S.E.2d 292 (1997) (exhaustion of IDEA remedies)
  • Leake by Shreve v. Berkeley County Board of Education, 965 F.Supp. 838 (N.D.W.Va., 1997) (IDEA statute of limitations)
  • Phillip Leon M. v. Greenbrier County Board of Education, 199 W.Va. 400, 484 S.E.2d 909 (1996) (alternative education)
  • Peck v. Upshur County Board of Education, 941 F. Supp. 1478 (N.D.W. Va. 1996) (distributing religious literature)
  • Hanson v. Mineral County Board of Education, 198 W.Va. 6, 479 S.E.2d 305 (1996) (settlement agreements between school boards and employees)
  • Boner v. Kanawha County Board of Education, 197 W.Va. 176, 475 S.E.2d 176 (1996) (independent contractors)
  • Byrd v. Mercer County Board of Education, 196 W.Va. 1, 467 S.E.2d 142 (1995) (excess levies)
  • Doe v. Alfred, 906 F. Supp. 1092 (S.D.W. Va. 1995) (exhaustion of administrative remedies under IDEA)
  • State ex rel Board of Education of Kanawha County v. Caperton, 190 W.Va. 652, 441 S.E.2d 373 (1994) (governor’s restoration of budget cuts)
  • Triggs v. Berkeley County Board of Education, 188 W.Va. 435, 425 S.E.2d 111 (1992) (professional employee seniority)
  • Board of Education of County of Wood v. Enoch, 186 W.Va. 712, 414 S.E.2d 630 (1992) (extended year employment)
  • State ex rel. Melchiori v. Board of Education of County of Marshall, 188 W.Va. 575, 425 S.E.2d 251 (1992) (professional RIF “bumping”)
  • Lincoln County Board of Education v. Adkins, 188 W.Va. 430, 424 S.E.2d 775 (1992) (teacher planning periods)
  • Winkler v. State School Building Authority, 189 W.Va. 748, 434 S.E.2d 420 (1990) (School Building Authority bonds)
  • Brown v. Wood County Board of Education, 184 W.Va. 205, 400 S.E.2d 213 (1990) (teacher evaluations)
  • Keith D. v. Ball, 177 W.Va. 93, 350 S.E.2d 720 (1986) (student discipline)
  • Thomas v. Staats, 633 F.Supp. 797 (1985) (statute of limitations)
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