PUTNAM COUNTY, WV (WOWK) – Teachers from across West Virginia are making their way to the one school district not closed because of the statewide teacher strike.
Teachers from Cabell and Jackson Counties joined Putnam County protesters outside Hurricane High School early Tuesday morning. As the West Virginia Capitol Building is reported to be at capacity just after 10 AM, the AFT has encouraged striking teachers to join forces in Putnam County.
We spoke to Boone County Special Education Teacher Jose Schultz, who also participated in the 2018 strike that gained national attention.
“We’re not just teachers, were also counselors at times,” said Schultz, over car horns and cheers. “We do more than just teach and we don’t want to be overwhelmed with larger class sizes.”
“This is 55-United not 54-United.”
Tuesday morning, teachers lined up at Hurricane High School as early as 5:45 a.m. to protest the controversial education reform bill.
These teachers say they’re planning on staying there for as long as it takes.
“When this was proposed, they did not speak to anyone in the public education community, they brought in out of state people,” said Lorie Jimison, a special education teacher at Hurricane High School.
This sentiment is followed by teachers like her who lined down the sidewalk at Hurricane High School Tuesday morning.
While all other 54 counties in West Virginia decided to close schools due to the teacher’s strike, Putnam County superintendent John Hudson decided to keep them open.
Now, teachers are paying for that decision… literally.
“Because our county board and superintendent chose to open schools today, if we are on the picket line, we have to take a docked pay day, which means we are not receiving our pay today,” said Jimision.
The sidewalks at Hurricane High School were not just filled with teachers, but also filled with students, and supporters alike from Putnam, Jackson, and Cabell counties.
“We’re just trying to get numbers out. We want to make this 55 strong not 54 strong because we’re all 55 united here, 55 strong,” said Parry Casto, a teacher at Cabell County. “And we’ll stay here as long as it takes to get us 55 strong.”
The message at Tuesday’s protests, according to teachers, is simple: the kids come first, even if that means forgoing a 5% raise and other things teachers say they still need.
“Our kids go through a lot of rigor, and it’s not fair to say that our kids,” said Jennifer Marinacci, another teacher at Hurricane High School. “We don’t have good students and that are teachers aren’t good. We have good teachers and we have good students. We have a lot of students who are in awful situations.”
Shannon Drown, a counselor at the alternative school in Cabell County, says she was on the front lines at the Capitol during the teacher’s strike last year, but she says this time around is very different.
“It was a lot about fixing our insurance and a raise and being treated with respect,” said Drown. “This year is more about protecting our kids.”
And that sentiment is also felt by Marinacci. “My concern are students that are at risk, and I feel like they’ll be left behind in this bill because they’re not going to go to charter schools.”
13 News went to the Putnam County Board of Education to talk to Superintendent John Hudson but we were told he’s in meetings all day and that he would be releasing a statement Tuesday afternoon.
Superintendent John Hudson released a statement saying,
It is most unfortunate that circumstances beyond our local control have resulted in a strike. However, we remain hopeful that the legislative process will result in what is best for school employees and students. We believe that it is our obligation to make every attempt to keep our schools open for the students we serve as our community depends on all of us to fulfill our responsibility as school employees. We understand the importance of having necessary personnel in our schools to meet the needs of our students and would not place students or staff in a situation jeopardizing safety.
As this situation changes, we intend to communicate regularly with our parents while also respecting their decision regarding what they believe to be in the best interest of their student(s). It is important to state that the decision to keep Putnam County Schools open was in no way meant to disrespect our Putnam County School employees as each employee plays an integral part in the success of our district.