Many West Virginia students don’t want more days off from school, but they do want their teachers to get better pay.
The eight-day teacher work stoppage has closed every single public school in the state and left more than 277,000 students with unexpected free time.
The strike was supposed to end last week after union leaders agreed on a 5% raise, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced Tuesday evening. However, because teachers’ demands were not met by legislators over the weekend, they are not returning to their classrooms just yet.
Although they are not happy about missing class, many students are rallying behind state educators.
“I wish it wouldn’t have come to this and that I was still in school, but I want the teachers to get the wages that they deserve, so I’m alright with it,” says Victoria Blickenstaff, a sophomore at Fairmont Senior High School in the city of Fairmont.
So, Blickenstaff and her classmates have been joining teachers on the picket lines since February 22.
A hashtag takes off
On February 21, they organized a purple-out across their school and neighboring counties to stand in solidarity with their teachers. Students wore purple to signify a combination of red and blue, the two teachers’ union colors. Students from 18 schools across the state participated.
The #SecureOurFuture leaders also penned an open letter to the people of their state, asking them to understand the importance of the strike.
“For us, this work stoppage is not about missing class,” the students tell CNN. “As we stated in our open letter, ‘We understand that this strike is not just a day off from school for us; it is not about pay, it’s about what’s right.’”
Some athletes OK with the strikes
Many students worry about falling behind, but they are also sympathetic to what’s at stake for those who teach them.
“I’ve been trying to keep of track with my AP Government and AP Psychology without school because it’s really hard to miss so many days with exams coming up,” Rhea Rideout, a senior at Huntington High School in Huntington, tells CNN.
Still, Rideout, like others, says they understand.
Avary King, a sophomore at Fairmont Senior High School, says that some members of her community are upset that the work stoppage could impact school sporting events. But not all athletes share the same feelings.
Chase Goldsmith is a part of the #SecureOurFuture leadership and also plays on his school’s football team. Although they are currently off-season, he says he would sympathize with the teachers even if the strike did cancel games and practices.
“Our education comes first as we are student athletes. For our education to come first, our teachers have to come first. Most athletes understand and agree with that,” he said.
Note: This piece was originally published February 27. It has been updated to reflect the ongoing teacher strike.