Meeting set for video review

School Board, sheriff agree on closed session
Jeremy Raley
Rick Koontz
Karen Whetzel
Timothy C. Carter

WOODSTOCK – Shenandoah County school officials and the Sheriff’s Office have agreed on the details for showing a videotape of Strasburg High School students committing acts on a school bus that led to the filing of criminal charges against them.

Superintendent Jeremy Raley and Sheriff Timothy C. Carter met Wednesday and agreed on 8 a.m. May 16 as the time and date for the School Board to meet and view the video in closed session as part of a student disciplinary hearing. After the hearing, the board is scheduled to meet in open session to consider actions pertaining to the disciplinary proceedings.

The videotape was the subject of a lawsuit filed by the School Board against Carter, who initially resisted requests to make the tape available for a disciplinary hearing. Judge Thomas Wilson IV issued a nine-page ruling Friday finding in favor of the board.

Wilson ordered Carter to make the tape available to the board, subject to several conditions that included closing the meeting and providing a deputy to enter the closed hearing and play the requested parts of the video. Students who are the subject of the disciplinary hearing and their parents are also to be allowed to attend the meeting and see the video.

Carter and Raley said after Wednesday’s meeting that they are both satisfied with the arrangements for viewing the video.

“It was a very positive meeting, and I think we’re going to be as accommodating as we can be with regard to what their needs are,” Carter said.

Raley was cautiously upbeat in describing plans for the disciplinary hearing.

“We were able to meet today and talk about the logistics about how the School Board will be able to access and view the video,” Raley said. “It was a positive conversation.”

The videotape was obtained from the surveillance system on the school bus that was carrying members of the Strasburg boys JV and varsity basketball teams back from a game in Moorefield, West Virginia, on Dec. 19.

The videotape showed a disturbance breaking out among the players that led to charges of assault or battery by mob filed against seven students. Students are also facing long-term suspensions and expulsions connected to what school authorities believe to be their roles in the incident.

In a related matter, Carter bristled at a letter School Board Chairwoman Karen Whetzel and Vice Chairman Richard L. Koontz sent Monday to students, parents and staff at Strasburg High School.

The sharply worded letter took aim at Carter’s refusal to allow the board to see the videotape prior to Wilson’s ruling.

“The judge, in essence, recognized unequivocally the respect that should have been shown for the role of the School Board,” Whetzel and Koontz wrote. “His decision totally rejected the misguided, adversarial position taken by law enforcement that cost our school division time and money and delayed – for both the accused students and those subjected to their misconduct – a prompt resolution.

“We emphasize that the School Board takes no pleasure in those court rulings. It is regrettable that the School Board had to ask the court to intervene, but it had no choice after repeated attempts and communications to the Sheriff were met with adamant refusal.”

Carter has said he does not consider withholding the videotape or the ensuing lawsuit to be “adversarial” on his part.

“I thought the tone of the letter was petty,” Carter said. “I think what we should be focused on right now is how to move on, move forward, and on how we can serve the public’s interest.

“To me, that’s what I’m focused on. There may be other people that are still making this a personal issue or wanting to get down in that type of rhetoric. We’re not. I’m not.”

Carter insisted that he was merely seeking an explicit order from a judge to ensure that sharing the videotape with School Board members was legal and consistent with his duties as sheriff.

“I’m not an attorney,” Carter said. “Karen is not an attorney. Rick is not an attorney. There was a question asked with regard to a legal issue that I’ve never been asked before. Would I allow information from an investigation to be viewed outside the judicial system? Apparently, there were different legal opinions about that, but now it’s been answered. That’s what the system is supposed to do when you have differences of opinion.”

Raley was non-committal about the letter.

“I think the letter speaks for itself,” Raley said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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