By Jessica Farrish, The Register-Herald
Teachers and school support employees dressed in red and "walked in" at their schools in support of an initiative planned by Raleigh County Education Association (RCEA).
Beckley-Stratton Middle School instructor Marcy Lilly, who teaches sixth-grade English and has worked in the school system for around 25 years, said she was one of about 15 teachers and employees at her middle school who gathered out front at various times prior to the start of school early Monday to participate in the "walk-in," which was arranged by RCEA President Wendy Peters.
The message "in red" was a signal to lawmakers, a reminder of what happened on Feb. 22, 2018, when West Virginia teachers in all 55 counties hosted a 13-day statewide walkout to protest increasing health care costs and low pay.
The teachers, who wore red, sparked a nationwide series of teachers' strikes.
West Virginia teachers walked out again for two days this past February in protest of Republican lawmakers' proposal for education reform, which would allow the formation of charter schools. Under the plan, funding earmarked for public education in the state could also be used for education savings accounts (ESAs).
Teachers have argued the focus needs to be on wraparound services for students, especially those whose families have been impacted by opioid epidemic.
Lilly said that recent proposals by Republican legislators in Charleston show a lack of intimate knowledge of the obstacles students in the southern part of the state are facing. She said most current lawmakers have probably not "set foot" in a state classroom in "years."
The "walk-in" on Monday reminded lawmakers that teachers are still paying attention.
"We're disappointed in the way public education has been treated," Lilly stated on Monday, explaining the choice of teachers to launch the walk-in event. "We don't believe in charter schools.
"They take money from public education, which is not a good thing.
"They're not transparent. There's no accountability. There's just too many bad things that go along with those schools."
She said education has been devalued in the current state culture, and elected officials in Charleston are putting the state's most at-risk children in danger of being undereducated.
Lilly said that money would be given, without accountability, to charter schools with special agendas, some from out-of-state. Those schools would not be required to admit every student, she reported.
Lilly, who participated in the statewide walkout of #55Strong, said the walk-in reminds state lawmakers that teachers are the experts on education.
She said that she and other teachers are also waiting on the 5 percent pay increase that lawmakers promised last year and failed to deliver.
Instead, she said, legislators manipulated the promised pay raise into a package that would damage many of West Virginia's students, if passed. The move effectively forced teachers to choose between educating students or taking their promised pay increase.
"We would like a raise," she said. "We feel like we were cheated out of that at the beginning fo the year, but our main focus has been to take care of public education.
"Charter schools are just not the way to go. Statistics have shown that they don't work."