POINT PLEASANT — Classes have been canceled on Friday for Mason County Schools and not because of snow.
Teachers and service personnel will be joining other colleagues from across the state for a one-day work stoppage. The Associated Press was reporting Mason County would join their fellow public school employees from Cabell, Lincoln and Wayne counties who also voted Tuesday to stay out of classes Friday. Though Mason County staff will not be in the classrooms Friday, its being reported by union leadership they will be in Charleston to make their voices heard concerning their pay rates and health insurance.
The Mason County Board of Education was notified of the one-day stoppage at its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday night. Mason County Schools has around 581 total employees and Superintendent Jack Cullen said there was no way to fill all those positions and ensure student learning and safety. Cullen said once the board was notified of Tuesday’s vote by staff, the decision was made to cancel classes and get the word out to parents and caregivers.
Board members and Cullen will have to make adjustments to the school calendar to meet the state’s required 180 days of instruction, following Friday’s impending employee work stoppage. The missed instructional day on Friday will be added on as one additional day at the end of the school year. As it stands now, Cullen said if there is only a one-day work stoppage, the last day of school for students would now be June 8 and the last day for teachers June 11.
Cullen said state law requires that missed day be added on to the end of the school year’s calendar if it was based upon an employee work stoppage. He added, the county does have two Outside School Environment (OS) days left to use – these days are used to make up for weather and other emergency closures. He said a best case scenario would be if those OS days were not used before the end of the year, the board members could choose to vote to use them at the end of the school year, meaning the last day for students could then be June 6 and last day for teachers would be June 7. This, of course, is dependant on only a one-day work stoppage and no weather or other emergencies that require school closure and the use of the OS Days.
As of Wednesday afternoon, after Friday’s work stoppage, school staff in Mason County are expected to report back to work Monday for a professional meeting day, though students are out of the classroom that day.
Cullen explained, by law, the school calendar cannot extend past June 29. Only 15 days of instruction can be added to the calendar due to an employee work stoppage. If a strike would happen, the legislature can make adjustments to the school calendar to make possible changes to shorten that school calendar, however.
If schools remain open during work stoppages, there will be no change to the school calendar. The day will count as an instructional day. For all employees that do not report to work on an attempted employee work stoppage day and schools remain open, an approved excuse will be needed to be paid for the day. An example would be a doctor’s excuse.
The board of education office, board members and Cullen have been fielding phone calls about the stoppage. Cullen said he wanted to stress, even if teachers went on strike tomorrow, it would not delay graduation for students or students moving on to the next grade level. If that scenario would happen, student test scores and performances could and would be averaged and a passing or failing grade would be determined based upon the student’s scores for the year up to that point.
Also, Cullen said as long as the WVSSAC is still hosting athletic events, student athletes would participate in games and students participating in regional academic fairs would also not be denied that opportunity to attend those events during work stoppages or a strike.
The work stoppage is voted on by teachers and personnel staff, not the board of education. Work stoppages are not permitted under West Virginia law, and both the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and the West Virginia Attorney General, in prior written opinions, have confirmed that public employees have no right to participate in work stoppages. This includes teachers and service personnel. The possible ramifications for employees participating in a work stoppage will be determined at the county level. However, at previous public meetings, all Mason County School Board members have expressed support for the staff’s concerns when it comes to pay rates and funding the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA).
On Tuesday, board members did pass a resolution supporting a legislated wage increase for all school staff and passage of legislation to fully fund PEIA or to allow school districts or educational service cooperatives to pursue independent health care options. The resolution also stated it encourages all members of the community to join with it in “personally expressing appreciation to our staff for their dedication and devotion to their work through support of legislation leading to a wage increase and insurance funding.”
As previously reported by the AP, the House of Delegates passed legislation Tuesday to give teachers 2 percent raises the next fiscal year and 1 percent in the three years after that. The Senate last week approved 1 percent raises in each of the next five years. Gov. Jim Justice said health insurance coverage for public employees will be unchanged for the next 17 months. Teachers in Logan, Mingo and Wyoming counties held a one-day work stoppage Feb. 2.
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.
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