SISSONVILLE, W.Va. — Kanawha County Schools asked some custodians to return to work Monday as the education work strike continued for a third day but Sissonville High teacher Katrina Minney saw the support staff on the picket line early Monday morning.
Minney said it’s going to be very difficult for Kanawha County or any other county to reopen schools if everyone stays together. Minney said she also believes the majority of parents are with them.
“I think a lot of parents are going to be very reluctant to send their kids. I know I’ve talked to a lot of parents personally who have said they will not allow their kids to cross the picket line,” Minney told MetroNews. “I think they are going to have to realize up at the statehouse that it’s not just public employees but we have a lot of parents united with us.”
The state Board of Education meets Tuesday and could decide to pursue legal action to try and force those striking back to work.
Jeremy and Erin Cooper are both teachers. They are expecting their second child in May. Erin Cooper said remaining unified is the key going forward.
“As long as we stay strong and stay together—nobody can stop us,” she said.
Her husband Jeremy said his top priority is his growing family.
“For me is just knowing that may family is taken care of and it’s one less thing to worry about,” he said. “We spend our days worrying about everybody else’s kids and now we are taking time to worry about our own.”
The message has been the same on many of the picket lines. The workers say they want respect for public education, better pay and a permanent fix for their health insurance through PEIA.
Jerry Throckmorton, a history teacher at Sissonville High who leads the WV-AFT at school, said there may be a point in the future when the teachers are faced with some tough decisions especially if schools reopen.
“The longer it goes on people have a lot more issues that come into play,” he said. “People can afford to miss a day or two here and there but some people are in some tough spots, they’ve got families to feed.”
Several teachers were picketing for a third day in Dunbar Monday morning. Large signs reading “Fix PEIA!” could be seen by motorists near the Go-Mart just off Interstate 64.
Brandy Emch, a teacher at Dunbar Middle School, said she fears having to pay high health insurance costs when she has a son who is getting ready for college.
“The copays, deductibles and all that stuff eat away at any kind of living that we have. I have a son that he’s a senior this year, tuition to think about, so I’m a parent and I’m a teacher. I get to see the whole picture,” she said.
Emch said she will continue to strike for as long as it takes. She said she’s doing this for her students and her own children, so they can be given a reason to stay in West Virginia.
Emch said she’s not surprised teachers are leaving the state. Currently, there are more than 700 teacher vacancies.
“We have so many vacancies, it’s no wonder teachers are going to other states. It’s no wonder that we can’t fill the vacancies because we’re not offering what other states can offer,” she said.
Kristina Vannoy, a teacher at DuPont Middle School, said a pay raise would be nice, but it’s more about fixing PEIA. She stood alongside her husband who also teaches in the school system.
“I’m not in it for the pay raise. I’m in it for the insurance. Even though they had this on the table with a combined income and divided by two, we’re still going to be losing money in the long run,” she said.
It’s unknown how long the strike will last. Vannoy said she hopes it ends soon.
“I want to see my kids. I want to make a difference. That’s why I became a teacher — to make a difference and to see the spark when they actually get something. That’s what I miss, but at the same time, we have to stand up for what we believe in,” she said.
MetroNews reporter Carrie Hodousek contributed to this story.