Kanawha County Board of Education still fighting off lawsuits

By John O'Brien | Apr 10, 2006

CHARLESTON - With yet another lawsuit on his hands, Jim Withrow is starting to think that maybe the Kanawha County Board of Education's policies should change a little bit.

"We generally think we need to supervise the children," the school board attorney said, "not the adults who act like children.

"This happened where teachers and others were present, primarily for the purpose of supervising students. We expected adults there to act like adults."

John and Andrea McCune filed a lawsuit against the Board of Education March 31 over an incident at an East Bank-Dunbar middle school basketball game.

There, Lisa Brown, a secretary at East Bank, allegedly punched a pregnant McCune in the stomach and pulled her hair.

As Withrow understands it, the fight had nothing to do with the game. Instead, the Brown's former romantic involvement with John McCune seems to be the main factor.

Brown just happened to be a school employee at a school function. And that's why the school board is getting sued, too.

"Ms. Brown was not there as an employee. She was watching her son play basketball," Withrow said. "She was off-duty. I don't believe her actions are related to her employment.

"I spoke to her within the last several days we were served with the complaint. I told her and she agreed with me that she was not there as an employee, not there on duty and I don't think our insurance would cover her."

Still, the Kanawha County Board of Education is now defending itself, something it has become accustomed to.

In the last year, the board has been named in lawsuits stemming from such incidents as an air conditioner exploding, a middle school basketball coach showing his team a scar on his pelvic region and a man storming into a board meeting attempting to set his former boss on fire.

Add four sexual harassment cases, and Withrow's beginning to feel like the Board of Education has a big target on it.

"We've got the money," Withrow said. "Attorneys - I'm not singling them out since I am one - they know that individuals, generally speaking unless they're (Powerball winner) Jack Whittaker, that they don't have a great deal of money."

And John McCune, the husband of the punchee, is also suing the Board, claiming that he was "in the zone of danger when the assault occurred and suffered great emotional shock and outrage."

In addition to the basketball fight, the Board was recently hit with an educational malpractice suit filed by Thomas P. Sturm. Sturm claims his education at Sissonville High School did not prepare him for life as an adult and is seeking $1 million in punitive damages.

Though Sturm's attorney, Michael T. Clifford, said that number is negotiable.

"It's just a number that I thought up and stuck in there," Clifford said. "It's a nice round one there. This can be resolved for significantly less than that. I've written letters to try and resolve this, but there was no response."

Withrow might have just been too busy with other lawsuits to respond.

"They know that school boards have pretty good insurance policies," he said. "We're an inviting target, I guess."

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