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Deaf and Blind caregivers want some give and take

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By Jennifer Smith 
WV MetroNews

Child care givers at the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind fear they could lose their job when new education requirements go into effect in July 2015. Earlier this week, more than a dozen students at the schools walked out of class and picketed, holding signs demanding they be allowed to keep their care takers.

“They are their moms and pops when they are there at school. They’re the ones that meet them when school is over. They’re the ones that hold their hands when there are problems. They’re the ones that soothe their hurt. They’re the ones that put them to bed at night, be sure they’ve eaten enough, be sure they’re safe,” explained Anita Mitter, with the West Virginia Education Association, the union that represents the approximately 30 caretakers at the schools.

Earlier this year, the state Board of Education approved a plan that requires the child care givers to get an associates degree as a residential care specialist in order to keep their jobs. Mitter said there’s a lot of concern about the new requirements.

“We want to give these folks, that have all this experience, to be given priority for these jobs. Second, we don’t see the reason for the (associates] degree but most people are willing to go to college but they want to be given longer than three years. Third is the cost. We need some help with the cost,” stressed Mitter.

The caretakers have staged protests before. However, Mitter stressed, they did not encourage the students, who held their own rally outside the school.

“We have said we do not want the students involved. However, we know that they did their own picketing the other day,” said Mitter. “We appreciate their support but we have not encouraged that in any way!”

Mitter stressed the caretakers aren’t against getting a college degree, becoming more informed about the field they’re in. However, she said, an associates degree is not necessary, too pricey and in some cases, it will be difficult for staff to settle into the courses. That’s because some of the care givers don’t’ have degrees, others haven’t been in school for a long time.

“They understand what these kids need. An (associate’s) degree is not going to give them that kind of compassion and caring and their love that they currently have,” according to Mitter.

Members of the state Board of Education have said the goal is not to get rid of the current caregivers, but rather give them more tools to help the students they care for.

MetroNews put in a call to Lynn Boyer, head of the West Virginia Schools for the Death and Blind, but the call was not immediately returned.