A teacher strike in West Virginia stretched on Monday, with classes canceled across the state for a third day and demonstrators continuing to flock to the capital city.
The work stoppage has had a sweeping impact in West Virginia, which has more than 277,000 public school students. All of the state’s 55 counties closed schools Monday, said Kristin Anderson, spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Education.
Anderson said some of those closures were because of flooding or previous schedule arrangements, but most were a result of the strike. Schools statewide had also closed Thursday and Friday. The strike was expected to continue Tuesday in all 55 counties, said Kym Randolph, spokeswoman for the West Virginia Education Association, a leading teachers union.
“Tomorrow is same as today,” Randolph said Monday afternoon. “They are out again tomorrow. Some will be at the Capitol. Some will be on picket lines.”
Pictures on social media Monday showed teachers and school personnel again at the Capitol, their redoubt since the strike began. There was also an afternoon rally in Charleston, where a crowd gathered and chanted “55 strong!”
The president of another union, the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said educators were standing with their students and communities.
“We challenge the House leader, the Senate leader and the governor to bring us to the table today,” Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, told the crowd at the rally, which was livestreamed over Facebook. “We are ready. We are willing. We stand on the right side of public education by being back here and outside our schools tomorrow.”
Randolph, of the West Virginia Education Association, said members would prefer to be in their classrooms rather than out demonstrating.
“But they feel this is important, that nothing’s going to get done if they don’t take a stand,” she said. “So they’re doing what they think they need to do.”
Steven Paine, West Virginia’s superintendent of schools, on Saturday released a statement saying he had met with county superintendents, many of whom asked whether the state was planning to take legal action. Paine previously said work stoppages by public employees are illegal in the state, and suggested the strike would negatively affect students.
“Families will be forced to seek out alternative safe locations for their children, and our many students who depend on schools for daily nutrition will face an additional burden,” he said in a Feb. 20 statement. “I encourage our educators to advocate for the benefits they deserve, but to seek courses of action that have the least possible disruption for our students.”
The strike, which was prompted largely by concerns about salary and benefits, came not long after Gov. Jim Justice announced he had signed legislation to give teachers and state police a 2 percent raise. Teachers were also expected to get 1 percent increases in fiscal years 2020 and 2021, a news release stated.
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.
“We need to keep our kids and teachers in the classroom,” Justice said in the release. “We certainly recognize our teachers are underpaid and this is a step in the right direction to addressing their pay issue.”
West Virginia ranked 48th in average teacher salaries in 2016, according to National Education Association data.
In a phone interview last week, Campbell, the president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, noted that teachers were also worried about “attacks on their voice.” And at Monday’s rally, Dale Lee, West Virginia Education Association president, told the crowd: “Our voices are not going to be silenced anymore.”
“The people who are not serious about us and serious about public education,” he said, “we got news for them in November. Get ready.”