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Students protest WVSDB’s decision to terminate workers

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By MARLA PISCIOTTA

For The State Journal

Nearly a dozen students ranging from 14 to 16 from the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind secondary, junior and high schools, walked a picket line the morning of June 2.

Students expressed their displeasure that child care worker jobs are being terminated, and some parents are upset they weren’t notified the students’ dorm mothers will be terminated.

School superintendent Lynn Boyer met with seven senior students for about an hour prior to the picketing.

“The meeting was mildly intense but generally respectful,” Boyer said.

Students picketed behind the stone wall that borders the school along Rt. 50. In order to be on the sidewalk, the students would have needed to obtain a permit from the city.

Chaperoned by a counselor and a teacher, the students were allowed to picket from 9:30-10:30 a.m., so they’d miss only half of two classes, Boyer said.

The picketing had been in planning stages for a couple of weeks, and over the weekend students made the signs they used while picketing.

“The kids said they didn’t care about the consequences, they have freedom of speech to picket,” Archele Griffith, mother of two students said in an interview June 1 from her home in Sissonville. “My daughter and son told me a week ago the plans were to walk out of class on June 2 at 9 a.m.”

Griffith, who has had students attend the school for the past 10 years, said her children are devastated that the child care worker jobs are being terminated.

“We weren’t even told about the dorm mothers losing their positions,” she said. “The parents knew nothing about it. We didn’t receive a letter. We have a right to know who is working with our children.

“My kids said they didn’t want to lose their dorm moms, they’d rather lose Dr. Boyer.”

Griffith said she found out about the child care workers’ jobs from her children when they saw picketing at the schools a few weeks ago.

“We wouldn’t have known about it unless our kids told us,” she said. “Dr. Boyer did all of this underhanded. She did it behind the parents back. We can’t trust her to tell us anything.”

The administration at the schools announced the “child care workers” positions would be phased out July 1, 2015 and replaced with people working in the positions of “residential care specialists.”

The replacement jobs would require an associate’s degree in child development, psychology, social-work or related fields or an employee’s written intention to acquire the degree within 3 years of being hired.

Existing child care workers can apply for the new positions.

Eastern Community College has developed classes that would take four years to complete and would begin this summer. The 60-hour program at Eastern costs $4,300.

Anita Mitter represents the West Virginia Education Association union.

Mitter and several others recently met with Boyer to discuss the matter.

“I think the meeting went well,” Mitter said. “We were open and honest with each other.

“The biggest issue is we don’t know the criteria they are going to use for hiring for these jobs.”

Mitter said so far there hasn’t been a time frame given to them on when the employees would receive the new criteria.

“Our people need priority for their seniority,” Mitter said. “Their time should count for something. At this point they have been told that is not in the works.

“That is what is so frustrating. Without the criteria they don’t know whether to sign up for classes in the fall. If they are not going to be given priority — some of them don’t want to sign up.”

Mitter said one of the childcare workers took the Eastern placement test and it was determined that she would have to take two or three courses to get up to where she needed to be for math.

“She is not the only one,” Mitter said. “This woman told me, ‘these people are messing with my soul.’

“That woman said she’s worked for them for 20 years and now she feels she’s being told what she has done over the years isn’t good enough. She said it makes her feel like she’s not done good work for 20 years.”

Boyer said she felt the meeting was a good one.

“We had a frank discussion about the continuing concerns of the child care workers,” Boyer said. “I hope we can continue to have meetings that will help people to be more comfortable with the decisions for what is best for the kids.”

Boyer said she does not have hiring criteria yet, she is relying on the office of legal service for guidance on that. Boyer also said a monitoring team from the state recently visited the campus and the schools received positive comments.

However, Mitter said one of the issues being discussed is why the current child care workers need an AA degree.

“The kids come from school,” Mitter said. “By the time they get to the dorm, have a snack and do their homework, it’s time to get them ready for bed.

“What is the need for an AA degree to do that kind of work?”

Mitter said the employees are acting as house parents.

“They are being pressured to sign up for the classes, spend over $4,000 out of their own pockets, and at the same time not being guaranteed priority on their jobs,” she said.

And parents join Mitter in a concern that Boyer doesn’t visit the dorms frequently, in their opinion.

“The child care workers feel she doesn’t understand what they actually do,” Mitter said.

Griffith said if the child care workers are forced out, she will be taking her children out of the school and so will other parents.