- Associated Press - Monday, June 2, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A new policy requiring child care workers at the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind to have an associate degree has upset some students who say the change is unfair to the employees.

Ten students conducted a protest against the change Monday morning outside the school in Romney. Workers affected by the change held similar protests in April.

“They watch us. They protect us. They help us do our homework. They do a lot of things to help. They’re like our moms and dads,” 13-year-old Jacob Hundley of Charleston told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Ashley Shuck, 14, of Fort Ashby, said workers who have been at the school for years should not have to go to college to keep their jobs.

The West Virginia Board of Education approved the change in March. It will affect 35 employees who work during non-instructional hours with students who live in the school’s dorms.

Beginning July 1, 2015, the jobs will be changed to residential care specialist positions, with higher salaries. Workers who don’t have degrees must obtain them within three years but there is no guarantee that they will be hired.

“These house parents are like our parents,” 15-year-old Brooklyn Phares of Scherr said in a telephone interview. “Do parents have to go to college? No, they don’t.”

“We don’t want them to lose their jobs. They’re like best friends to us. If we lose them, we don’t know what we’ll do,” Phares said.

Some parts of the process have not yet been decided, said Elizabeth Boyer, the school’s superintendent.

“We anticipate many of the current child care workers will apply for these jobs and the students will see a lot of familiar faces when they get back to school in 2015,” Boyer said in a telephone interview.

Boyer said her responsibility is to ensure that everyone on the campus has the knowledge and skill to support the students at all times.

Anita Mitter with the West Virginia Education Association is representing the workers. She did not immediately return a telephone message Monday.

Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College in Moorefield, about 26 miles from Romney, has developed an associate’s degree for the positions and will offer the courses on the Romney school’s campus. Online courses also will be available, Boyer said.

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