On Tuesday, West Virginia’s governor announced he had forged a deal with striking teachers, and educators would return to their classrooms Thursday.
Turned out, it wasn’t that simple.
The strike, which began last week, continued Thursday, leaving more than 277,000 public school students locked out of their classrooms for a sixth day. And there are indications it will persist through at least Friday.
A map on the state’s Department of Education website Thursday showed that schools were shut down across West Virginia. Kym Randolph, director of communications for the West Virginia Education Association, a teachers union, confirmed the closures, and indicated the work stoppage might continue Friday.
“We’ll see,” she said. “Unless something pretty significant happens, tomorrow’s looking kind of iffy to get back to school.”
A state Department of Education spokeswoman said updated information about county schools could be found on the agency’s website, which by Thursday afternoon was already showing widespread closures for Friday.
The statewide work stoppage began Feb. 22, when schools in all of West Virginia’s 55 counties closed as teachers walked off the job. As the strike progressed, educators and school employees flocked to the state Capitol in Charleston, while others stood in picket lines in their communities.
“It’s really fluid,” Randolph said, when asked how long the work stoppage might continue. “The trust levels are so low.”
The pact announced by Gov. Jim Justice (R) gave teachers a 5 percent raise. The proposed pay increase passed West Virginia’s House of Delegates, Randolph said, but comments from some state lawmakers caused concern.
“This is a three-legged stool, right?” Randolph said. “The governor, the House and the Senate. And I think two legs are very solid. I think one is a little wobbly right now and some statements have been made by members of the Senate that are causing some people to question whether or not the Senate is fully committed.”
In a letter to state employees, Justice on Wednesday said he and union leaders had “worked diligently to pull off an incredible package for the state workers of West Virginia.” In the letter, he promised to create a task force to address concerns about health care — a major concern during the strike. That task force would include educators, Justice said.
“It is important that everyone understand that identifying all of the issues in our health-care program and finding a solution takes time,” Justice said in the letter. “A cure won’t come in 30 minutes, but I can promise you this task force will begin its work immediately.”
The salary for beginning teachers in West Virginia is $32,435 a year, and the average teacher salary is $44,701, according to the state teachers union. In 2016, West Virginia ranked 48th in average teacher salaries, National Education Association data shows.
Randolph said union officials appreciated the support of parents during the stoppage, and asked for patience as the process continued.
“I know it’s easy for me to say, because I don’t have any kids in the system, but they’ve been very supportive and we appreciate the support and the patience they’ve displayed,” Randolph said. “We hope that we can get everything back on track pretty soon.”