Teachers in at least 30 counties across West Virginia participated in a walk-in demonstration Wednesday morning, and teachers in all 55 counties wore red to show solidarity.
The demonstration was organized by a group called the West Virginia United Caucus which is comprised of teachers from the various unions in the state. The group formed after the teacher strike last year to help maintain unity created during the 10-day walkout. The caucus organized what they called the “State of our Schools Walkin” to precede Gov. Jim Justice’s State of the State address.
“We’re going to continue to fight for our children, the future of our state. We can’t afford not to,” said Jenny Craig, a special education teacher and president of the local Ohio County Education Association. She’s a founder of the West Virginia United Caucus and sits on the steering committee. She says the goal this morning was largely to draw attention to the mental health needs in schools throughout the state.
“We’re number one - highest in the nation - for childhood poverty in children ages up to 6, and we are 4th highest in the nation of childhood poverty overall. We’re also 2nd highest in the nation of children being raised by their grandparents,” Craig said. “And that’s a direct result of the opioid crisis that is crippling our state.”
Craig mentioned the 700 teacher vacancies that need to be filled but said other positions are also critical.
“We need more school counselors, we need more school psychologists, we need more school social workers.”
Craig points to a West Virginia DHHR report that said the state needs 380 school counselors, 700 more social workers, and and 320 school psychologists to cope with the ongoing opioid epidemic. The DHHR has estimated it would cost more than $100 million to fill these positions and provide necessary health care facilities.