Educators in several Southern West Virginia counties won’t show up to school on Friday. Instead, many will travel to the Capitol in an attempt to send a message to legislators as part of a walkout, according to local union leaders and school officials.
Schools will be closed in at least Logan, Mingo and Wyoming counties for the work stoppage, according to statements from the respective county leaders of the West Virginia Education Association.
“This shows the anger that is out there,” said Dale Lee, president of the WVEA. “It’s not a new anger — it’s built up, for years.”
Teachers in Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Wyoming counties all voted in recent weeks to authorize the walkouts, according to Lee. For other counties throughout the state, several votes are planned in coming days and weeks to authorize similar actions.
Hundreds of teachers could show up at the Capitol to fight for wages, Public Employee Insurance Agency benefits and a halt to bills teachers consider harmful to their education system, Lee said.
“I know they’re still up there trying to work out a deal but it’s still not enough,” said Brandon Wolford, president of Mingo County’s chapter of the WVEA and a K-8 special education teacher at Burch Elementary. “We want higher wages, we want PEIA fully funded, and we want all the bills considering elimination of seniority stopped.”
Leah Clay Stone, vice president of the Logan County chapter of WVEA and teacher at Logan High, said anywhere from 800 to 1,500 employees from Logan could be coming to Charleston for the day of action.
Wolford said “a large portion” of Mingo’s teachers will be at the Capitol, and those who can’t will rally at the Mingo County Courthouse in Williamson.”
Tina Adams, teacher at Baileysville Elementary and president of Wyoming County’s WVEA chapter, said she wasn’t sure of a number, but that Wyoming teachers would be in attendance.
“There is a will for this, and there has been a movement — we need to be heard,” said Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers, West Virginia.
Of Gov. Jim Justice’s proposed 1 percent pay raise for teachers statewide, Campbell said, “That won’t even let [teachers] break even — 1 percent is not enough,” especially when considering premium and deductible increases proposed for PEIA.
An amendment introduced in the state Senate raising Justice’s proposed pay raise from 1 percent to 3 percent failed on Thursday, leaving Adams frustrated.
“I think we’ve all been feeling that a lot lately,” she said.
Teachers in Monongalia County will not be walking out, but will wear purple in solidarity with teachers in southern counties, according to Heather DeLuca-Nestor, teacher at South Middle School and president of Monongalia County’s chapter of the WVEA.
DeLuca-Nestor said Marion County and Tucker County teachers would be doing the same, and all have meetings planned to vote on authorizing walkouts.
“We’d like to see this as a statewide movement,” DeLuca-Nestor said. “We support them [southern counties] wholly, but I want to make sure our numbers are protected. As a statewide movement, we have safety in numbers.”
In Harrison County, county WVEA Vice President Greg Phillips, a history and government teacher at Robert C. Byrd High School, expressed similar sentiments. He said a vote is also being scheduled there in the near future.
“Our general philosophy is, we want to be on board with this,” Phillips said. “Some want action now — a lot do — but we are very active and we’re getting there.”
McDowell County Superintendent Nelson Spencer said Thursday afternoon there was “a 50/50 chance” of teachers participating in the work stoppage.
Boone County and Kanawha County teachers are planning “walk-ins,” where teachers would rally for their causes before attending their regular work days, according to news releases.
Lee said he wasn’t surprised to be watching the southern counties lead this movement.
“Actions like this really are a a part of heritage in the southern part of the state,” Lee said. “When you get fed up, there are actions you take — they are fed up, they are taking action.”