POINT PLEASANT — On Thursday morning, the Mason County Board of Education held an emergency meeting to discuss the potential outcomes of a possible work stoppage by staff and developed a set of guidelines should a stoppage occur.
An informational meeting for the teachers and service personnel of Mason County Schools was held later Thursday evening. (See adjacent story on Page 1, or online at www.mydailyregister.com.) The possible work stoppage came about due to what many educators and personnel staff across West Virginia feel are stagnant wages, alongside costly changes in PEIA insurance. Work stoppages have become a hot topic across all 55 counties as the state legislature debates what to do next.
Superintendent Jack Cullen informed the board members he attended a state meeting last week in Bridgeport asking for guidance on work stoppage. Cullen broke down the information he received from State Superintendent of Schools Steven L. Paine to the board members as follows:
Cullen stated, as relayed at the state meeting, work stoppages are not permitted under West Virginia law. He explained that both the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and the West Virginia Attorney General have confirmed that public employees have no right to participate in work stoppages including teachers and service personnel. He said the possible consequences for employees participating in a work stoppage will be determined at the county level. Cullen suggested that if no violence or intimidation were used during a stoppage, that employees who participate in a peaceful work stoppage be given amnesty.
Cullen stated no personal leave may be used during a work stoppage. He explained that if a staff member tries to request leave without cause, the personal leave will not be permitted on the designated stoppage day unless the employee can produce a justifiable excuse for missing work. He said any employee calling in sick must present a doctor’s note the day they return to work. Cullen commented if any staff has requested personal leave prior to their knowledge of the work stoppage, it must be verified the leave was not due to the work stoppage.
Cullen stated no seniority is earned during a work stoppage.
“Seniority of a regular or substitute employee shall continue to accumulate except during the time when an employee is willfully absent from employment duties because of a concerted work stoppage or strike or is suspended without pay,” he said regarding a section of the West Virginia Code.
Cullen stated violent or threatening behavior by picketers cannot be tolerated. He explained that in the event that employees form a picket line outside of a school, it is the duty of the school principal to take reasonable steps to ensure that the assembly is peaceable and devoid of any actual threat of intimidation. He said that if it appears the picketers are attempting to prevent other employees and/or students from accessing school grounds or become violent or overly confrontational, he advises the principals request assistance from law enforcement. Cullen commented that employees who are prevented from working due to actual physical threats, intimidation, and violence and who can provide proof of such actions will be paid as though they had reported to work, however, the mere presence of a picket line is not a sufficient excuse.
Cullen stated the process of rescheduling lost instructional time. He explained that if the number of employees absent due to a work stoppage is so great that students cannot be safely supervised, the schools will be closed. Cullen said that if school is closed, the lost days of instruction must be rescheduled by the county board in accordance with West Virginia Code. He stated that a county cannot reschedule an OSE day to replace a regularly scheduled instructional day that is cancelled due to a work stoppage; thus, the next available out-of-calendar day will be used to make up the time lost.
Board Member Greg Fowler made a motion to approve taking action on the work stoppage guide as written and the board approved. The work stoppage guide which Cullen presented to the board was to be given out to all the teachers and service personnel for personal review.
Cullen also addressed that if a child is absent during the work stoppage it will be considered a calamity day in the West Virginia Education Information System making the child’s absence excused. He said students needing minutes for special needs can make up the missed day and if they are in attendance, they will received their minutes. He commented that if school is cancelled due to work stoppage, sporting events will not be permitted unless it is a state level activity.
Cullen shared Jackson and Kanawha Counties have utilized a walk-in picket strategy where they make a picket line off school grounds in the morning and then go to school to teach and after school return to the picket line.
He said if a work stoppage occurs he would seek guidance on how to heal the county school culture.
As reported in the adjacent story on Page 1, and online at www.mydailyregister.com, teachers and service personnel decided not to walk out today (Friday).
Beth Sergent contributed to this article.
Erin Perkins is a staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing.