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2-day teacher strike over in West Virginia: School to resume

By JOHN RABYFebruary 21, 2019
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West Virginia teachers gathered at Capital High School in Charleston, WV. early Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, morning to protest the Omnibus Bill that is moving through the Legislature. (Kenny Kemp/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)
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West Virginia teachers gathered at Capital High School in Charleston, WV. early Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, morning to protest the Omnibus Bill that is moving through the Legislature. (Kenny Kemp/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Unions for West Virginia teachers ended their two-day strike Wednesday night after lawmakers did not act on a doomed, broad-based education bill.

Leaders of three unions representing teachers and school service personnel said at a news conference that classrooms would reopen statewide on Thursday.

The House of Delegates made no mention of Tuesday’s passage of a motion that effectively killed the bill.

According to legislative rules, a lawmaker who voted to table the bill had until Wednesday to ask to have the vote reconsidered. The House adjourned until Thursday without such a move being made.

The complex bill “is now dead. It’s gone,” said Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers’ West Virginia chapter. “So our voices were heard.”

Schools in 54 of the state’s 55 counties were closed for a second day Wednesday. The lone holdout again was Putnam County.

Unions for teachers and school service workers went on strike Tuesday over the legislation that they said lacked their input and was retaliation for a nine-day walkout last year. That strike launched the national “Red4Ed” movement, which included strikes in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Washington state, and more recently, Los Angeles and Denver.

The unions and teachers opposed provisions in the legislation that, among other things, would have created the state’s first charter schools and allow education savings accounts for parents to pay for private school. Proponents said the moves would have given parents more school choices.

“This was once again a united effort,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association. “The winners in this, once again, are the children of West Virginia (who) are assured of a great public education for all of them, not just a select few.”

The union leaders said they reserve the right to call teachers back out on strike before the end of the legislative session in early March to take action as they see fit. Portions of the complex bill could still be offered through amendments to other legislation in the final two weeks of the session.

The unions have trust issues with lawmakers, especially becoming wary of leaders in the Senate after actions during the 2018 strike and again this month when the chamber rushed to act on the bill.

“I feel cautiously optimistic,” said Sarah Duncan, a visual arts teacher at Walton Elementary-Middle School in Roane County. “I hope that (lawmakers) continue to do the right thing. I hope that they don’t try and bring back those parts of the bill that got the bill killed in the first place, like education savings accounts and charter schools.”

Duncan said “a lot of people think that teachers get two days off, that it’s a lot of fun. But being on strike is a lot more stressful. It’s not fun.”

Like the House, the Senate, reversing course from its original bill, removed a clause that would invalidate the entire legislation if any part is struck down, and took out language requiring teachers sign off annually on union dues and requiring teacher pay to be withheld during a strike.

Earlier Wednesday a House committee endorsed a pay increase for teachers, school service workers and state police. The teacher pay raise was part of the original legislation that the House tabled. The House plans a public hearing on the raises Friday. It would give annual salary increases of $2,120 to teachers, $2,370 to state police and $115 per month for school service workers.

Last year state teachers received an average 5 percent raise to end the nine-day strike.

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