Workers at W.Va. Schools for Deaf and Blind ask board to reconsider new job requirement

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CHARLESTON, West Virginia — Child care workers at the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind have asked the state Board of Education to reconsider a new policy requiring them to obtain an associate's degree.

A group of workers and parents spoke out against the policy during the board's meeting on Wednesday in Charleston, media outlets reported.

The policy will affect 35 employees who work during non-instructional hours with students who live in the Romney schools' dorms. Their jobs are being changed to residential care specialists, with higher pay. They have until 2018 to obtain an associate's degree in child development, psychology, social work or a related field.

But there's no guarantee they will be rehired.

Cathy Evans told the board that the workers don't need additional training because they are separate from teachers and special education instructors.

"I'm the children's mom, their friend, their protector and child-care provider . . . I provide love and understanding. I teach them morals and ethics, so that they may grow into wonderful men and women and have productive lives with families," said Evans, who has worked at the Romney campus for more than 30 years. "Why do I need a degree to wipe noses and tears? . . . What these children need are mothers with instincts who share compassion for what they go through."

Gayle Manchin, president of the board, said higher expectations are necessary.

"We hear what you say, and we will discuss and we will deal with these issues, but I would be remiss if I didn't say to each of you that, as a board and as a state, we are raising the standards for every student in West Virginia because we believe that every child can learn, and (we are) raising those standards for teachers and principals — everyone that works with children — because we value the job that we do and we value that they want to be the very best person they can be to work with those children."

Lynn Boyer, the schools' superintendent, said that, after researching deaf and blind institutions in surrounding states, requiring degrees is the best move.

"In all cases, the differentiation between the school and the home was not there. It was very much a seamless set of expectations. So that gave us some confidence that we were, in fact, on the right path," Boyer said. "I fully expect that many familiar faces will be with (the students) in August. It is not our intention to do away with jobs or people, but to increase the quality of teachers and provide support to do that."

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