Teachers unions in West Virginia claim to have walked out of their classrooms a second time in a year “for the kids,” but a resident journalist says many parents and teachers are keeping quiet about their distrust of that claim due to “overwhelming fear and intimidation related to unions.”
— Fight For 15 (@fightfor15) February 19, 2019
Jayme Metzgar — a 17-year West Virginia resident and a senior contributor at the Federalist — wrote Friday that many parents support both higher teacher salaries as well as school choice. Consequently, the unions’ mantra, during its second strike two weeks ago, that school choice options “will hurt public schools and kids” caused parents to question the justification for the strike.
West Virginia Education Association tweeted, “And it really is all about the kids”:
“And it really is all about the kids. The striking teachers across the state were willing to risk losing a 5 percent pay raise to fight against a bill that could have led to the privatization (with public funds) of West Virginia education.” https://t.co/F05IhQvSKo
— WVEA (@WVEAnews) February 21, 2019
Despite distrust of the unions’ motives, Metzgar said many of these parents and teachers decided to keep quiet, and an investigation into their reasons uncovered fear to challenge the striking teachers.
“This is especially true in the state’s southern coal counties, where organized labor has a long, proud, and sometimes violent history,” Metzgar wrote. “Some West Virginians’ palpable fear in speaking freely is something I’ve never before encountered in America. It is, in fact, much closer to the corruption culture I’ve experienced in my 22 years of charity work in post-communist Romania.”
Her observation is especially noteworthy since the West Virginia strike was fueled by #RedforEd, a social media campaign that is the slogan of a socialist movement supported by the national teachers unions and first launched in Arizona by Marxist teacher Noah Karvelis.
This one is a must-read for any teacher, but especially critical pedagogues. One of the best contributions I’ve come across. 🙌👏🙌👏 pic.twitter.com/grPD5c6Ntl
— Noah Karvelis (@Noah__Karvelis) November 28, 2017
Two personal favorite parts of #RedForEd so far:
1. Seeing educators so empowered.
2. The incredible discussions this has started with my students on workers’ rights, labor movements, civil disobedience, and fighting for necessary social change.
— Noah Karvelis (@Noah__Karvelis) March 25, 2018
As Michael Patrick Leahy reported for Breitbart News Thursday, the 24-year-old Karvelis wrote at Marxist Jacobin Magazine last month that the purpose of teachers unions must be community organizing – “particularly in ‘right-to-work’ states,” where the unions would hope to be a force to move citizens toward the ideology of the Democrat Party.
Karvelis informed fellow agitators that by embracing “democratic organizing … we were able to create a movement that cut across partisan lines and mobilized thousands of public education supporters.”
“Through gradually escalating our actions, we were able to accomplish this as we simultaneously built structures such as the liaison network, which allowed us to begin building toward lasting power and not simply a strike,” he wrote.
“The dramatic turn of events demonstrated the enduring power of educators in West Virginia, even though the state’s right-to-work laws have sapped power and authority from labor unions.” https://t.co/Xp75Of3O8a
— WVEA (@WVEAnews) February 20, 2019
Teacher walkouts have hit school districts throughout the country, as more unions — struggling to maintain membership and funds in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Janus decision — are agitating strikes focused primarily on stamping out school choice, which is viewed as the enemy of their monopoly on public education.
Education Week reported on February 22:
The most recent actions, including a union-led strike in liberal Los Angeles, have been as much about pushing back on charter schools and other school choice reforms — initiatives that have a history of bipartisan support but have long been decried by unions as threats to the traditional public school system.
In West Virginia, teachers walked out this week for the second time in a year, this time over proposed legislation that would have created the state’s first charter schools and allowed education savings accounts for parents to pay for private school. Proponents said the moves, which did not pass, would have given parents more school choices. Teachers saw it as retaliation for their walkout last year.
“I can’t understand how the Republican leaders thought that this was going to be OK with us,” said Christi Phillips, a first-grade teacher in Mill Creek, West Virginia.
Metzgar said testimonies from eight parents and two teachers revealed the fear and intimidation tactics of the teachers unions.
“Their personal stories paint a picture of an outdated, top-heavy system determined to protect itself and resist reform at all costs,” she observed.
A teacher and a public-school parent — both native West Virginians who asked for some anonymity — told Metzgar public education is controlled by organized labor of the same variety that has had a long history in the state’s coal industry.
“It’s sad that we have to live in fear if we disagree with the union school system,” said the parent. “But in my area it’s a fact of life. They hold the community’s children hostage to get what they want.”
“Going against the union was akin to treason and could have resulted in negative consequences, so miners and their families developed a deep respect and even fear for the organizations,” Jessica, a former public school teacher, told Metzgar. She added:
As a result, many modern-day West Virginians have carried this same attitude toward unions into the 21st century. From being bullied to ignored to physically threatened, my husband, fellow anti-union friends, and I have all experienced the negative consequences of not supporting union mindsets in our workplaces.
Jessica said she supports school choice.
“What is interesting is that one year ago, I had several conversations with co-workers, where the sentiment toward school choice was quite different,” she said, explaining that they too talked about the positive aspects of charter schools.
Now a homeschooling parent, Jessica, said that, within one year, the same colleagues decided charter schools were “the death of the West Virginia way of life.”
“So, what happened in the span of 12 months?” she asked. “The difference, in my opinion, is that the teachers’ unions determined that charter schools and school choice were dangerous to their continued success in West Virginia.”
Metzgar wrote that State Sen. Patricia Rucker, the lead sponsor of S.B. 451 — which would have established charter schools and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) in West Virginia — told her many teachers throughout the state had privately asked for legislative reforms, but were fearful of the unions to say so.
“I have promised to keep confidential all the folks who have spoken to me,” Rucker said, according to Metzgar. “Teachers, administrators, county board members, superintendents. They support reform but can’t speak to it publicly.”
Metzgar also spoke to a teacher in the state’s southern coalfields who had moved from Ohio to West Virginia.
“Moving here wasn’t my first experience with a teachers’ union,” the teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, told Metzgar. “But it’s definitely been my most negative.”
“In Ohio, unions were kind of a non-entity,” the teacher continued. “They had very little influence on the day-to-day workings of our job. There are much fewer ‘rights’ and ‘privileges’ as a teacher in Ohio compared to West Virginia.”
“In Ohio there was much more of a focus on ‘what’s best for kids,’ and that’s often how decisions were made,” the teacher added. “In West Virginia, decisions are made based on keeping adults happy.”
The teacher reported on the heavy pressure exerted by union leaders on teachers to vote to strike.
“After one of the votes last year, a first-year teacher came to me in tears,” she said. “She asked for my help and told me she felt pressured by the union reps to vote ‘yes’ for the walkout, when she wanted to vote ‘no.’ I promptly went down to where they were counting the votes and asked that her vote be changed.”
Anyone who thinks differently than the unions has to endure tons of bullying,” the teacher explained, adding:
I do not see any positive educational reforms happening in West Virginia until the unions have less power or until they are broken. Let the statistics speak for themselves. This state has the most powerful education unions in the country and yet is one of the lowest-performing states for education. If that isn’t confirmation that something needs changed, I don’t know what is.
The teacher told Metzgar the second West Virginia strike was about control.
“Charter schools will employ teachers who are non-union, which threatens the union’s power,” she said. “That’s the bottom-line reason for the strike against them.”
Metzgar reported the stories of West Virginia parents whose special-needs children were allegedly bullied or emotionally abused in their classrooms by teachers and aides. When the parents sent their children to school with tape recorders to finally find out what was happening in the classroom, they discovered the alleged abuse.
In the case of Kathie Crouse, even with the tape recordings, the teachers were placed on paid leave.
“The unions will always protect the teachers, no matter what they’ve done,” Crouse said. “They have the money, they have the lawyers—you can’t hold them accountable. The teachers’ unions rule this state.”
Crouse said she and her children suffered as a result of her intervention:
My kids and I were harassed all year long. The teachers hated us, the administrators hated us, the board of education hated us. We finally realized we had to get our kids away from that environment. I remember telling my husband, “I wish we had charter schools in this state, then maybe we could get away.”
Subsequently, Crouse pulled her children from school and homeschooled them and now heads a homeschool organization.
Following the Janus ruling that now blocks public sector unions from compelling nonmembers to pay union fees, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten wrote that the Supreme Court decision “only makes us angrier.”
Metzgar noted the unions are indeed “tighten[ing] their grip and protect[ing] their interests.”
She observed as well, however, that “parents are rapidly fleeing both the public school system and the state.”
“West Virginia has the grim distinction of losing population more quickly than any other state in the union, with its public school enrollment dropping by nearly 5,000 students last year,” she wrote. “But not everything is in decline; homeschooling is seeing significant and steady growth in West Virginia.”