Teachers: ‘We have been silent long enough’

BUCKHANNON — A day after more than 5,000 public employees rallied at the West Virginia Capitol, local employees remained resolute in their decision to stop working until the West Virginia Legislature takes action to meet their demands.

Chief among the issues for the three state education unions is a permanent fix for PEIA that will make it fully funded — something that affects all state employees. They also want a pay increase of 5 percent, a stop to the lowering of teacher qualifications, no charter schools, vouchers or savings accounts that would take funding away from public education, protection of seniority and to continue allowing payroll deductions for union dues.

The West Virginia Education Association, American Federation of Teachers West Virginia Chapter and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association called for the work stoppage to continue Tuesday after no progress had been made with the legislature.

The governor further angered many teachers with comments made at the capitol and in three town hall meetings held around the state Monday.

Cheryl Cain, a B-UHS English and journalism teacher, stood in front of Chapel Hill UMC Tuesday with about 100 other employees. A few dozen were also rallying in front of Brake’s Dairy King. Later, all the groups would merge for another rally in front of the Upshur County Courthouse.

“I think he thinks he is talking in a language that we are supposed to be responsive to, but he doesn’t understand that kind of language with no relationship is offensive,” Cain said. “I also think that his town hall meetings were just to disrupt our attention from Charleston so that he wouldn’t have as many teachers down there.”

The strike was in its fourth day Tuesday.

“I think they could have come together last week,” Cain said. “Where there is a will there is always a way. They are all about big business because that is their priority. They have absolutely no concern over what the common man experiences.

“They need to invite our representatives into the conversation and negotiate. As of right now, they shut the senate doors down and they won’t even let us attend the session.”

State union representatives met with the governor Tuesday at 2 p.m. That meeting went into the evening hours, with a break in the late afternoon.

Across Hart Avenue in the main part of the Chapel Hill UMC lawn and sidewalk, some students were showing they cared by serving sandwiches, subs, snack cakes and more.

Desirae Lindow, student body president at B-UHS, said, “The ideas was to show we support our teachers. We felt we hadn’t done much to help, and this was something we could do right away.”

Lindow said she went to Charleston Monday not because she has a definitive opinion but because it was an opportunity to see history being made.

Lindow’s mom is employed in the school system and she said she is supportive of her mom and realizes that financial impacts from rising PEIA costs affect her family as well. 

“I support teachers for standing up for what they believe in and I think they are teaching the students to also stand up for what they believe in,” she said.

Derek Reed, a senior at B-UHS and diesel technology student at Fred W. Eberle Technical Center, wasn’t so sure about the work stoppage when he first heard about it.

“Truthfully, I wanted to see why my phone kept blowing up,” he said.

Over the last few days, Reed has asked questions and gotten answers but is still concerned about missing his time at Fred Eberle, which he wants to use in his future career.

“I guess they are standing up for everyone else; I just wish it wasn’t during my class time,” he said.

Joyce Harris-Thacker, advanced studies and special education teacher at B-UMS, said, “I’m a teacher and I’m out here to support teachers, and not only teachers but all state employees to share our voice about a broken  health care system that needs fixed and about teachers pay that needs to be increased. We have vacancies, losing people to other states. We have just been silent long enough.”

Harris-Thacker has been out everyday at one of the rallies.

“It’s just a wonderful thing that we are all standing united and hopefully we will make a difference to the state legislators who will listen to our voices collectively and fix what is broken for our education system and for the future of our children,” she said. “We are not out here for ourselves. We use our voices to teach kids every day, and now we are using our voices to help ourselves and our families. There is nothing wrong with that. It is way past time that we do this.

“We have remained silent too long and there comes a time when we have to step up. Now is the time. There are so many things that have been forced upon us, and especially with PEIA, that I think a lot of folks just don’t know about it. We are helping to bring that to light. If they will just stay with us, then we will all get back to the classroom and things will be better when we do.”

Harris-Thacker thanked the community for supporting the teachers and other public employees.

“We appreciate all their support and we all look forward to getting back to the classroom,” she said. “It’s important for us to do this. It’s too important not to do it.

“We’ve got parents and kids here today that are supporting us and fixing food. We are all parents and grandparents. One of my students is out there right now standing with her mother who is a teacher as well. Many of the teachers have to worry about child care and other issues as well.”

She also pointed to the extra food that went home with students before the work stoppage and the lunches being served at the Parish House.

“We have had folks who have bent over backwards to try to make sure there is food for the kids while we are out for this work stoppage,” she said.

Danielle Rexroad, technology integration specialist at B-UHS, said she went to Charleston Monday and it was “extremely packed with lots of angry teachers and very loud.”

She said the crowd was so loud that they could be heard outside chanting from inside the gallery.

As for what the governor said on Monday, Rexroad said, “He seemed very unwilling to help us out and that is why we have to continue to fight.”

First UMC is organizing
a prayer vigil today from 6 to 6:45 p.m. in the sanctuary, according to Christian education director Kristi Wilkerson.

“We are primarily remembering our students, but also teachers and other state employees and all the government officials,” she said. “There won’t be speeches. It’s simply offering prayer.”

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