West Virginia schools stay closed as strike continues

Photo by Michael Erb Aradan Greenstein, a special-needs teacher’s aide at Parkersburg South High School, waves to motorists outside of the school along Blizzard Drive in Parkersburg during a picket Thursday of teachers and service personnel.

PARKERSBURG — Area schools will be closed today, the seventh day in a statewide teacher and service personnel work stoppage.

Shortly before 5 p.m. Thursday, officials announced Wood County Schools would be closed today, Code C, meaning personnel do not report. By 5 p.m., 43 of the district’s 55 school districts had closed, with the remaining counties expected to follow suit.

The school closing notifications began rolling in after the West Virginia Senate adjourned Thursday, with lawmakers announcing plans to send bill containing a 5 percent pay increase for teachers and police as well as 3 percent increase for other public employees to the Senate Finance Committee. The funding for the bill will be reviewed and likely redirected toward the state’s Public Employees Insurance Agency.

All 55 school systems announced they would be closed today as teachers and service personnel continue to protest at the state Capitol in Charleston and picket in counties throughout the state.

Greg Merritt, president of the Wood County American Federation of Teachers, placed the blame squarely on Senate Republicans.

Photo by Michael Erb A computer lab sits locked and empty Thursday at Franklin Elementary Center in Parkersburg.

“The majority party in the West Virginia Senate continues to disappoint their constituencies,” Merritt said. “It’s hard to understand why an investment in children is not the top priority. We keep hearing about fiscal responsibility, but it’s becoming evident that political rhetoric and grandstanding takes precedent over finding solutions.”

“We want to be back in school. We thought we had an agreement Tuesday,” said Bruce Boston, president of the Wood County Education Association. “However, it appears many in the Senate are not honoring the agreement their leadership reached along with the governor on Tuesday.”

Merritt said all of the state’s public employees have been supported by other groups, labor unions and community members, but not by many Republican lawmakers.

“The support for teachers and service personnel is overwhelming and is coming from all corners, except the West Virginia Senate,” he said. “The public employees in this state deserve better. The educational employees understand what hard work and long hours are. We challenge the Senate to do the right thing.

“We will not forget these days.”

Photo by Michael Erb Student volunteers gather food items Thursday at Blennerhassett Middle School’s food pantry. Teachers and community members assembled bags of easy-to-prepare foods to send home to students who otherwise would rely on free or reduced-price meals in schools.

In a press conference Thursday, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey reiterated his office stands ready should any agency request legal action to address the work stoppage. Morrisey said those agencies could be the West Virginia Superintendent of Schools or the West Virginia Board of Education, or any county-level school board. Morrisey said his office has not yet been contacted by any agency asking for legal action.

However, Morrisey said review of court cases during the 1990 teachers strike and a review of current statutes indicate the current work stoppage is unlawful and there is a precedent for court action.

“I don’t think this is a difficult case from a legal perspective,” he said. “I am sympathetic toward the teachers. My job as the AG is to enforce the law.”

Photo by Michael Erb Hallways remain dark and empty Thursday at Franklin Elementary Center as West Virginia continues to have a statewide walkout of teachers and service personnel.