PARKERSBURG - Wood County Board of Education members and a high school principal are clashing over the school's non-participation in a local cross country meet.
Superintendent Pat Law Tuesday evening was asked to present information on why Parkersburg South High School's cross country team did not participate in the Sept. 8 Chick-fil-A cross country invitational in Mineral Wells. Board members said the decision cost the cross country program money and denied students a chance to compete.
Law said school officials last year had a disagreement with Dorsey Cheuvront Jr., lead organizer of the event, concerning allowing a Lifetouch photographer to take pictures for South's yearbook. Principal Tom Eschbacher opted not to have the cross country team compete this year, which also meant the team did not receive a $1,000 donation from the event.
The cross country team instead traveled to a competition at Brooke High School in Brooke County. Officials said that trip cost the school about $600 in travel expenses.
The review became a major topic for the school board and a discussion of South's principal after board members took issue with a letter Eschbacher provided to Law that questioned the board's motivation.
Board President Tim Yeater was unable to attend Tuesday, so Vice President Jim Fox ran the meeting. During the meeting board members were given the letter from Eschbacher, who did not attend, as well as emails between Eschbacher, school yearbook adviser April Tibbs and Lifetouch officials discussing talks with Cheuvront.
In the letter, Eschbacher said his staff and staff from Lifetouch were treated rudely by Cheuvront who refused to allow the photographer at the 2011 meet, believing pictures of the event would be sold by Lifetouch. Eschbacher said Cheuvront was rude and unreasonable, and Eschbacher decided the team would not compete in the 2012 Chick-fil-A meet.
Eschbacher capped his letter by questioning why the board was involved in the dispute.
"I cannot help but wonder when the board of education will stop questioning the administrative decisions that are made at my school as well as every other school in Wood County," Eschbacher wrote. "I do my very best to ensure that the students, faculty and staff are protected from bullying, harassment and intimidation from all stakeholds. This is a perfect example of me doing my job, which is to protect the interests of the students, parents, faculty and staff of the Parkersburg South High School community."
The paragraph offended Fox, who read the passage out loud, asked for copies of the letter to be given to members of the public in attendance at Tuesday's meeting and asked each board member in turn to comment on Eschbacher's words.
"This is disturbing that we are being questioned on questioning the decisions" of an administrator, Fox said.
Jim Fox is the brother of Steve Fox, the longtime head coach of the Parkersburg South boys track coach who resigned earlier this year.
"I think it was in bad taste for him to put that in a public document," said board member Tad Wilson. "His comments in letter form are totally inappropriate."
Board member John Marlow said he was hesitant to comment.
"I personally don't agree with the comments that have been made in this letter," he said. "I think I need to be quiet at this point before I go any further. I am just really disappointed."
Board member Lawrence Hasbargen said "placing that in a letter is something I wouldn't do," but said he believes the issue was an administrative one and should not have come before the board.
"I don't look at this as a major issue for us to deal with here," Hasbargen said.
Fox declined to comment on Cheuvront's role in the situation, saying it would be unfair to talk about Cheuvront when "he wasn't given a chance to give his side of the story here publicly. He's not here to defend himself."
Cheuvront Wednesday said he was blindsided by calls shortly before last year's meet saying a professional photographer would be at the event.
"We have had a policy that if it is a commercial photographer or a for-profit photography company, we have to have an agreement with them before they are allowed to take pictures," he said. "We didn't have any agreement. I got called at the 11th-hour letting me know they'd be there. When I said no, people got bent out of shape."
Cheuvront said he feared the photographer would interfere with events and would sell the pictures of the events to parents, making money off the meet.
Mike Winland, director of secondary schools for Wood County Schools, said Tuesday Lifetouch has a contract with the school concerning yearbook photos. Part of the contract includes Lifetouch providing professional photography of sports and other events for the yearbook at no cost. Those photos, Winland said, are not sold, but are used solely by the yearbook.
Cheuvront said he plans to meet with Law to discuss a solution, but added he thought the issue already had been taken care of and was surprised when South's team did not attend this year's meet.
"It developed into way more than I thought it was," Cheuvront said. "I think everything will get resolved."
Eschbacher Wednesday declined to further comment on the issue or on the board's comments from Tuesday's meeting.