POCA — Rain poured down on students, service personnel and teachers picketing outside of Poca High School at 6 a.m. Tuesday.
Inside the school were six students, four teachers and a handful of administrators. Those administrators gave the strikers a tarp to keep them dry.
Poca High Principal David Harper said he stands by them.
“I support them because I was a teacher before an administrator. I understand exactly where they are coming from,” Harper said. “Our teacher and service personnel are why Putnam County Schools are some of the best schools in the entire state.”
Putnam is the only county in the state that kept its public schools open. However, like the other counties, most of the students aren’t in school. Putnam schools that usually have hundreds of students in attendance had fewer than 10 on Wednesday.
Unlike other counties, Putnam teachers aren’t getting paid because they are on strike. Teachers and school workers in the other 54 counties are on a work stoppage.
Traditionally, a strike is not being paid and having the option to cross a picket line, and that’s happening in Putnam, said West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee.
The school workers and teachers in other 54 counties will be paid but will need to make up the days.
“It’s going to hurt our pocketbooks, but we’re not being heard by our superintendent,” Hurricane High School teacher Shelley Young said.
Like Poca, there were only about six students in attendance at Hurricane High. A similar story played out across the county at Buffalo High School.
Teachers stood outside huddled under a tarp to stay dry. Not many students came, but Buffalo actually had a higher attendance than some schools in the area. There were about 26 students present.
School system spokeswoman Micah Osborne on Tuesday said students who did attend classes were continuing “day-to-day” activities. Tuesday there were 25 percent of staff and 10 percent of students were in school, according to Putnam County Schools.
By the second day of the strike, the county school system reported lower numbers. The total professional staff, excluding central office personnel, is at 21 percent attendance and about 3 percent students were in attendance Wednesday.
There was a consensus among teachers that even for the students who came there wasn’t too much progress made. Harper said it was mostly an “enrichment” day for students.
“As far as instruction, we can’t give real instruction because we don’t have the classes here,” Harper said. “It would not be realistic to move forward when everyone else is out.”
For Jeremy Litton, a 10th grade U.S. history teacher at Buffalo High, it means fitting in more information with less time.
“This just means we’ll have less instructional time overall,” Litton said. “It means I’m going to have to water down or streamline my content.”
Litton can’t completely strike. As the athletic director, he still has obligations to the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission. He said the strike puts many teachers in a difficult position.
“A lot of people think we shouldn’t be doing anything, but at the same time I think it’s unfair to the kids,” Litton said.
Putnam County School superintendent John Hudson said in a statement that circumstances beyond the school system’s “local control” created the strike.
He also said he remains hopeful that the legislative process will result in what is best for and students and employees. He noted that Gov. Jim Justice and state Superintendent Steven Paine have urged employees to return as SB 451 was tabled indefinitely.
“We respect parents and their decision regarding what they believe to be in the best interest of their student(s),” Hudson wrote. “Keeping schools open is in no way meant to disrespect our Putnam County School employees as each employee plays an integral part in the success of our district.”