FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Social media has helped to fuel misinformation in Marion County surrounding the frustrations and challenges facing the state’s school employees.
Allyson Perry, president of the Marion County Education Association, said addressing that misinformation was the purpose of Wednesday’s teachers’ meeting at the Knights of Columbus in Fairmont.
“We do know that some counties are walking out at some point, but we don’t feel that in our area people know as much about what’s going on or are as motivated, so we wanted to make sure that teachers and service personnel especially know some of the issues that are affecting public education,” Perry said.
With that goal in mind, Perry said she feels the response to the meeting was fairly positive.
“I think that teachers came to get informed, and that’s what they got,” she said. “They were allowed to ask questions after we provided some information to them, and I think it made them feel a little bit better about where we’re going in our county and how WVEA and AFT are working together.”
Those who attended included not only teachers but also service personnel and retired teachers, and while they all shared differing beliefs, they are united as one front.
“Of course you’re going to have people who are angry, of course you’re going to have people who are concerned and worried. Although, I don’t think there were many people who were indifferent because we’re all committed to our jobs,” Perry said. “We’re all committed to our students and our schools. We understand that all of these decisions directly affect not only us and our families but the community in which we serve, and I think that’s very important to remember.”
Perry, who is a seventh grade english and social studies teacher at Barrackville Elementary and Middle School, said the primary issues are insurance, pay and legislative bills that have been introduced.
To best have their voices heard, the group outlined action items that they can do within their own schools and communities.
“We discussed especially getting out into the community, so we talked about possibly doing information pickets outside of key locations, which we haven’t determined yet,” Perry said.
Perry said those can be done at schools and public venues, handing information out to the public to gain their support.
Additionally, representatives with both WVEA and AFT-WV will go back to their respective schools to inform their teachers on the issues in the legislature.
“We want to make sure that all teachers are on the same page, that we understand what’s going on in Charleston with our insurance and things like that,” she said. “They are making decisions down in Charleston that will directly affect our jobs, our schools and our students.”
One success that West Virginia’s teachers have already had was the defeat of the “Tim Tebow Bill” giving homeschooled students the ability to participate in public school athletics, which Perry credits to teachers calling and emailing their legislators. But there’s still a long battle ahead, she said.
While the word “strike” is being used synonymously with the frustration teachers are feeling in the wake of those legislative issues, Marion County is not taking that drastic step — at least, for now.
“In the informational meeting, we did not discuss any work stoppages, but instead we wanted to educate the public more and try these other action items first before we even get there,” Perry said. “I’m not ruling it out, but we want to try all avenues first before we get to that point.”
As the frustration among teachers grow, they’re realizing that the issues they’re fighting are not county-specific, and regions are coming together with even stronger voices.
“I think that we all share the same issues, not only teachers, not only service personnel, but state workers and public workers too,” Perry said. “Anyone who’s on PEIA is affected by PEIA, so anyone who has a spouse that’s also on PEIA is going to have a premium increase, and depending on how much you earn and based on their new brackets, you might have a premium increase.”
That impact is going to be shared by all counties, Perry said.
“That’s not going to affect us any more or less than any of the other counties. Same thing with legislation getting rid of teachers’ seniority; same thing with education savings accounts,” she said. “That’s what our state wants to move toward, so we’ll be affected just as every other county will be affected.”
The next Marion County teachers meeting will be held Monday, February 12.