Educators in Fairmont continue to rally for PEIA fix

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Dozens of students joined dozens of teachers at Fairmont Senior High School in a sign of solidarity on the third day of the statewide teacher work stoppage.

“It’s time to stop just paying us lip service and talking about how much you respect and love the public educator,” Greg DeVito said. “It’s time to actually start doing something.”

DeVito, the choir director at FSHS, said frustration was beginning to really boil over among educators and service personnel.

“Make a stand,” he added.

The future of the Public Employee’s Insurance Agency is a major issue for DeVito, but still just a very large piece of a much larger pie.

“It’s time to stop attacking public education in West Virginia,” he said. “Enough is enough.”

Kathy Jacquez, the Chair of the FSHS Science Department, said teachers would — universally — rather be in their classrooms.

“We’re teaching the future here, and we’re trying to do the best job we actually can because that’s a personal thing for us,” she said.

The Legislature has made a number of overtures to teachers during the last month, including a pay raise bill signed into law by Gov. Justice, a 17-month freeze of controversial and widely disliked changes to the PEIA benefits package, and bills that attempt to funnel additional money to PEIA. Jacquez said those were small drops in a very large bucket.

“After the ’90 strike, PEIA was a good insurance company. We didn’t have to pay all this money to get service. This is ridiculous, and it’s not our fault. We’re not the ones not funding our insurance.”

Attempting to find a more permanent fix has proved challenging in such a short time for the State Legislature, and Jacquez said the failure to respond quickly, mixed with a series of proposed bills heavily disliked by public educators, has rallied and unified teachers.

“I think they’re very clear on what they’re trying to do,” she said. “They’re slapping us on the hand, saying go on back to work.”

The Paycheck Protection Act, which would require teachers and other union members to sign-off annually on payroll deductions, has been widely criticized by teachers.

“I think it’s been punitive,” Jacquez said.

Jacquez, a veteran of the 1990 teacher’s strike, said she’s already preparing herself for the next showdown — a potential injunction forcing teachers to return to work.

“This is my second strike,” she said. “So I’ll go forever. Eventually they’re going to force us back to work, but that doesn’t mean we go back to work and do all of the extras that we’ve done before.

The biggest mistake, she said, is anyone doubting the resolve in the education community.

“They have to realize that we’re serious about this. It needs fixed.”

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