West Virginia might consider legal action to strong-arm its striking teachers

An empty classroom to represent teacher strike.
(Image credit: iStock.)

West Virginia state officials are threatening an injunction to strong-arm teachers into ending a strike that has closed schools in all 55 of the state's counties for a third day, CNN reported Monday.

Because it is illegal for teachers to strike in West Virginia, the State Attorney General's Office could theoretically determine that teachers "could be punished by being denied pay, suspended, fired, barred from teaching in a public school for a year, hit with criminal misdemeanors, or even fined or jailed for refusing to comply with any potential court injunctions forcing them to return to work," the Charleston Gazette-Mail writes based on an opinion written during a similar strike in 1990.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steve Paine confirmed "a decision will be made on Monday if an agenda item will be added to the State Board of Education meeting scheduled for Tuesday to discuss legal action," NPR reports. West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee dismissed the threats, saying: "There's rumor out there that anybody who takes this action is going to be fired. That's not a major concern of mine, we have 727 vacancies right now."

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The strikes began after Gov. Jim Justice (R) signed legislation last Wednesday giving teachers a 2 percent pay increase this year, followed by 1 percent increases over the following two years. Teachers say the action is inadequate: "I knew teaching wouldn't make [me] billions, but I thought it would be enough," said Wayne County second-grade teacher Rebecca Diamond, who works a second job at Hardee's to make ends meet.

West Virginia employs 20,000 teachers in public schools, where some 277,000 students are enrolled. The state is ranked 48th in the country for average teacher pay, and teachers in surrounding states make anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 more annually, CNN reports.

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