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Teachers unions say it’s not over

When does the exercise of authority become an abuse of power?

When the state Board of Education stomps down on a county Board of Education that doesn’t want to send kids to school in the middle of a pandemic, Dale Lee said.

Lee, who is president of the West Virginia Education Association, was talking about the state’s response last week to three north-central counties aligned with the aforementioned call.

BOE members of Marion, Taylor and Gilmer counties said Gov. Jim Justice’s executive mandate for in-person learning by last week was simply coming too soon.

They wanted to wait until the majority of their teachers were vaccinated, and stood in defiance of that order.

Until the state board answered.

Threatened sanctions included the reallocation of state aid monies for students, to the state taking control of their districts altogether.

“We were strong-armed,” said the Rev. James Saunders, a 30-year member of Marion’s BOE.

Lee agreed.

The state “was definitely overreaching,” he said.

It doesn’t mean the discussion is done, the WVEA president continued.

Not even with the tossing of a temporary restraining order from Kanawha County Circuit Court the day before seeking to keep Mon and Kanawha schools on remote through next month.

“That’s for the stay,” he said. “We’re still waiting on a court date for the injunction.”

It isn’t so much black and white, he said – as it is red and orange.

Those are the two worst hues for coronavirus infection rates on the County Alert Map used by the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

Most of the Mountain State’s 55 counties glowed one or the other Wednesday, including Monongalia.

Under the governor’s executive order, students from kindergarten to middle school will report, regardless of whether counties are parked in orange or red.

He doesn’t like the reach from Charleston, Lee said, nor do his counterparts in the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, the state’s other union for educators.

Fred Albert, AFT’s state president, said while he was disappointed in the court’s decision, his union isn’t done yet.

“We are respectful of the process and the opportunity to have the concerns of our members heard before the court,” he said in a statement.

“AFT-WV still believes these decisions are best left to the local boards of education, who are elected by the citizens of their communities to govern their local schools.”

Lee: “That’s all this has ever been about.”

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