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Some Employees are Upset About Job Change at Blind, Deaf School

Cecelia Mason
WV Public Radio

The West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind is changing the job description and requiring more education for the house parents who watch children living on campus, a move that’s controversial but has the support of the West Virginia Board of Education.

The Schools have been undergoing many changes since the state Board of Education hired Lynn Boyer as superintendent. The campus in Romney had become dilapidated over the years and the curriculum hadn’t kept up with current educational standards. The Board charged Boyer with changing things.

Since starting the job two and a half years ago Boyer has put together a master plan to upgrade some of the buildings, the outreach program that offers services across the state has been revamped and the curriculum has been improved.

State Board Approval

Board President Gayle Manchin said Boyer has taken a very systematic approach to improving the outcomes at the schools.

“And in doing that she has raised the rigor and the standards for the students, for the teachers, for the faculty, the administrators,” Manchin said. “Truly everyone involved in that school she has sort of lifted up the standards, lifted up the expectations,”

Manchin points out more rigorous job requirements have been put in place for most of the positions at the schools, and she said it makes sense to do the same with the child care workers. These are the 35 or so individuals who take care of the children living on campus in the evening and overnight.

Currently 141 students attend the school. 74 live on campus. 28 of them are blind, 35 are deaf and 11 have multi-sensory issues.

At its March meeting the Board approved Boyer’s proposal to eliminate the job of Child Care Worker, which requires a high school diploma, and replace it with Residential Care Specialist, which requires an associate’s degree or higher in child development, psychology, social work or a related field.

“It was really not a difficult decision I think at the board level to say obviously you moved forward with every other department in that school it would only be proper and correct that you would now move forward with the house parents and caseworkers,” Manchin said.

The workers who currently hold the Child Care Worker jobs would have to agree to get an associate’s degree and apply for the new Residential Care Specialist positions.

Workers Worried About Losing Their Jobs

State Senator Don Cookman of Hampshire County said the employees have expressed concern to him.

“They’re scared, they’re frustrated, they’re angry,” Cookman said. “They obviously don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring for them, whether or not they’re going to have a job or not, even after dedicating their life’s work to this pursuit in dealing with these special children and they’re special people from the fact just what they do.”

Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College is working with the Schools to provide the classes the employees need to attain the appropriate degree. Cookman doesn’t object to the additional education requirements, but he wants the employees to be treated fairly.

“Many of them only have a high school education which is all that was required,” Cookman said. “But some of them have college courses and some of them I know even have degrees just not in this particular field but the point is they may lose all their time involved.”

Cookman would like to see the schools do more to assure the current employees have a good chance of getting the new jobs.

“I would think that a good solution would be to grandfather in the employees that are there and to provide the training that is necessary for them to do the job,” he said.

But Boyer said it’s not legal to grandfather in current employees.

“I can’t keep persons in a job that has similar responsibilities to those with a higher pay because those in the lower positions will say ‘it’s just like mine so I need the higher pay,’” she said. “So I have to essentially relinquish that first position and create the new one that has the similar responsibilities plus the additional ones.”

The job description change was made after consultation with the school’s student living and personnel directors and with legal advice from the state education department. The new position will pay $8,000 more a year and will require employees to use more technology, help with homework and teach independent living skills.

Cookman said employees have expressed concern that even if they take the classes they might not get one of the jobs. Manchin said the school administration is doing everything it can to help existing employees gain the qualifications they need to compete for the jobs. And she believes the change will allow the schools to provide a better education to current and future students.

“If we are going to encourage parents around this state to think about the school for the deaf and blind as an option for their child that may need those services then we need to be able to look that parent in the eye and say ‘from the time your child arrives at our school until they leave’ they will be with caring, highly qualified, trained adults to be working with them 24/7,” Manchin said.

The Child Care Worker positions will be phased out over the next 15 months. Starting July 1, 2015 the job title will be Residential Child Care Worker.

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