West Virginia Schools Protest Hits 4 Full Days

Tensions rise across the ‘Mountain State’ of West Virginia as almost 20,000 teachers, joined alongside nearly 10,000 support staff, who are employed in public schools have been protesting for four complete days. Every public school across all 55 school districts of the ‘Panhandle State’ is closed. According to Alyssa Keedy of the West Virginia Department of Education, there are over 277,000 students enrolled who are being affected.

Last Thursday, on February 22nd, some staff members began by walking to the state capitol building located in Charleston. The movement quickly grew and grabbed the nation’s attention. Teachers would wave signs and posters plastered with phrases such as “No recess until YOU clean up this mess” and “Respect Ed.” Chants from the crowd could be hear, announcing things such as “You work for us!” or “55 united!”

Protesters standing outside of the state capitol building with signs. Image courtesy of Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispat

But what could be the reason behind such a massive uproar? After all, hundreds of thousands of students are out of instructors. Well, it began with an across-the-board pay raise of $808 per teacher and $404 per the two following years respectively. Despite this, faculty isn’t happy. Behind the facade of a pay increase lies a pay decrease in disguise. Statewide insurance costs are raising well beyond the amount of funding workers would receive in raises, overall resulting in a net negative for staff. Yesterday marked the milestone of four days of protest, with two of those taking up business days (Monday and Tuesday).

Christine Campbell, who currently stands as the president of the American Federation of Teachers (West Virginia), commented on the issue. She found that the strikers are simply not budging, and ‘would not return until a long-term solution was found.’ In a public statement she mentions “Our issues are clear. Our commitment to finding a solution has been consistent. We stand together for our students, our communities and our state.” She concluded her statement with “The most important thing for us right now is public education and that we’re standing up for our students and our colleagues.” Currently WV stands with some of the most underpaid teachers, ranked 49th nationally.

Headshot of Christine Campbell, the President of the American Federation of Teachers (West Virginia) . Photo courtesy of Darlene Swiger.

Campbell  says “For a lot of our children, the meals they get at school are the only meals they get for the day.” That lies on top of the fact that an estimated 1 in 4 children in the state live in poverty. The teachers took this into consideration, and planned the protest well in advance (about 4 days). Strikers made plans with various local churches and community centers for working families who couldn’t find anyone to watch their child for the day. No child should ever go hungry, and a vast majority of teachers and community businesses have taken up the task of making sure that students receive free lunches. Several non-profit organizations have joined in to ensure that those on free/reduced lunch still would be able to eat.

The Governor of WV Jim Justice has assured the public that striking teachers shall return to their classrooms on Thursday, after recently meeting with the heads of all 55 school districts. Justice is offering all of the educators and support staff a 5% raise over the first year. But will it be enough? West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee is doubtful, saying “We’ve heard them loud and clear. They’re not ready [to return].”

Jim Justice
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice attending a meeting with the 55 districts. Moment captured by (John Raby/Associated Press)

Works Cited: USAToday.com, CNN.com, HuffingtonPost.com

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