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Jefferson teachers ‘Walk In’ to protest

By Staff | Feb 16, 2018

Toni Milbourne/Chronicle Jefferson County teachers gathered last Friday to protest a new plan from the Public Employee's Insurance Agency.

Last Friday, teachers all around Jefferson County participated in a “Walk In,” during which they gathered together before school began to wave posters and draw public attention to rising insurance rates and minimal to no pay increases for educators.

Shepherdstown Middle School teachers gathered along both sides of Route 480 holding signs, waving and joining their voices in support of teachers from all across the state, who have been and will continue to hold similar protests.

Terri Young, president of the Jefferson County School Service Personnel Association, joined teachers in Shepherdstown to protest a new plan from the Public Employee’s Insurance Agency. PEIA has proposed significant increases in premium costs, high deductibles and penalties for those who don’t adhere to certain healthy living guidelines.

“We are trying to make people aware we can’t survive with PEIA’s plan,” Young said.

Young said teachers have had no raises in years, and the proposed 1 percent increase would do little to help the approximately 80 percent of those who work for the school system who are eligible for public assistance.

Retired teacher and school board candidate Jim Watkins, who also came out to protest with the Shepherdstown teachers, called the proposed increase a slap in the face.

“How you spend your money shows your priorities,” Watkins said. “There is a lack of political will to do this.”

Approximately 35 people took part in the middle school’s ‘Walk in,’ including parents, students and community members who came out to support their efforts. Vehicles blew their horns as they drove by to encourage those protesting.

Teachers ended their public display as they walked together, in solidarity, into the school building as students were exiting the school buses.

The West Virginia Legislature has been battling this week with various votes on pay increases, although at the time of writing, no vote has passed. A gathering of educators and officials in Flatwoods earlier this week saw talk of a strike. Jefferson County teachers haven’t publicly indicated any plans for a walkout; however, other counties within the state are already on that path.

Assistant Principal Mark Salfia, who remained at the door of the school, said while he wasn’t on the roadway participating, he wanted to show his support by wearing red and by directing others to the protest.

“I wanted to support them,” Salfia said. “Every teacher in our state and county deserves all the support from us.”