W. Va. teachers return to class after 9-day strike ends with pay hike

Schools throughout the state reopened their doors.

West Virginia teachers and students returned to the classroom today after the educators ended the longest strike in state history and achieved their goal of getting a 5 percent pay hike.

Schools throughout the state reopened their doors and many teachers waited in front of campuses to welcome back 222,000 students, who had been out of classes throughout the nine school days the strike lasted.

Teachers at Chamberlain Elementary School in the Charleston suburb of Kanawha City stood in front of their school and greeted arriving students while holding signs, reading, "We missed you" and "Nice to be together again."

Schools across West Virginia got back to the business of reading, writing and arithmetic after the state's 35,000 public school employees walked off the job on Feb. 22, fed up with going without a raise for four years.

Some students such as Zoya Khan, a senior at George Washington High School in Charleston, said that despite missing nine days of school, she learned a lot about civil disobedience from her teachers.

During the strike, Khan said she spent most of her days at the State Capitol in Charleston watching the teachers walk the picket line.

"It was really amazing to see all the teachers from all over the state, meet new people and just see how they peacefully stood up for what they believed in," Zoya told ABC station WCHS-TV in Charleston.

"I really learned that ... if you stand up for what you believe, in the end something good is going to come out of it."

She called the teachers' strike "inspirational."

Teachers went back to work less than 24 hours after Gov. Jim Justice signed legislation giving them and all state employees a 5 percent pay hike.

Justice said the deal hammered out Tuesday makes education "our centerpiece" of the state's priorities.

The governor also sent a letter to Steven Paine, the state superintendent of schools, asking for "flexibility" in the 180-day school requirement so that students and teachers won't have to make up the nine days they were out of the classroom.

"My staff and I will work with each of our counties to identify every opportunity to maximize meaningful instruction while also minimizing disruption to students and families," Paine said in a statement responding to Justice's letter.

"We are committed to providing timely technical assistance to each individual county to innovatively restructure their calendars and to find additional flexibility within their local attendance policies to better accommodate the needs of families."

Justice said the deal hammered out Tuesday makes education the "centerpiece" of the state's priorities.

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said she was proud of education employees in all 55 counties of the state for refusing to cave in when the governor and lawmakers tried to get them to take a smaller raise.

"They stood in solidarity -- 55 strong -- and each day it was clear their resolve grew stronger," Lee said in a statement.