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Union leaders not happy with Gov. Justice’s announced school start dates

Hint at potential strike
Published: Dec. 30, 2020 at 11:38 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - On Tuesday, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced dates for students to head back to the classroom full-time, leaving some union leaders unsettled and surprised by the news.

“My phone hasn’t stopped since the governor’s announcement (Wednesday),” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA). “People are very angry, very upset. I think, number one, people are insulted that none of the educators were consulted in this.”

“This was a total surprise to us, we didn’t have a heads up (and) we didn’t have any input,” said Fred Albert, president of American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia (AFT-WV).

Gov. Justice announced on Wednesday that all elementary and middle school students would return to in-person learning five days a week starting Jan. 19. High school students are also allowed to return five days a week, in-person beginning on Jan. 19, provided their county is not in the red zone on the color code map.

“The vaccine has everything almost to do with it in lots of ways,” Gov. Justice told WSAZ. “(Also), when it really boils right down to it, you know, the Department of Education is reporting to me that a third of the kids in our state are failing core classes, that’s one thing.”

The governor said on top of one third of kids failing at least one core class, the number of referrals to Child Protective Services about kids are down 50 percent.

“So many kids, really bad stuff may be happening to them in their lives, at their homes and we don’t know about it,” Justice said. “And we’re not able to do anything much about it. That’s terribly sad.”

Union leaders said they understand remote learning has its bumps and they both prefer in-person learning, but want to do so when it’s safe.

“We have major concerns, the numbers are up higher than ever. I mean, when you look at the map, almost all of our counties are red or orange and we’ve been following the same map since the beginning of school and to say now it doesn’t matter, doesn’t make sense,” Lee said.

“Remote learning has a lot of bumps, it’s not the perfect scenario. But above everything else right now, we want to make sure our students and school employees are kept safe,” Albert said. “That’s got to be the number one priority.”

“Even with the vaccine, you get the first dose then 21 days later you get the second dose. If we’re going back January 19, there’s no way you can get 21 days in if we’re not giving teachers and educators the vaccine until next week,” Lee told WSAZ.

Lee also said the WVEA will be meeting with local presidents on Thursday to discuss the announcements and also told WSAZ that a potential strike is not off of the table.