Nearly the entire student body of Pike County Central High School walked out of class Wednesday for one period to show support for teachers affected by state lawmakers’ changes to the pension system.
The students, about 640 in total, gathered in the gymnasium during the walkout to hear from fellow students about why teachers’ pensions matter, and how the current funding crisis affects them.
Chloe Weddington, a senior at Pike Central who helped organize the walkout, said her goal was to show support for teachers while also educating students about the pension changes in Frankfort.
“We just wanted people to be informed because a lot of our students weren’t really educated on what a pension is and why teachers are mad,” Weddington said.
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The pension alterations were approved by the legislature and await Gov. Matt Bevin’s signature or veto. New teachers would get a hybrid cash-balance pension plan, which combines a defined contribution plan like 401Ks with aspects of a defined benefits plan of a traditional pension.
The student walkout came a day after a march and rally in Pikeville, where teachers and some elected officials gathered to protest the pension bill and rally in support of each other.
Many of the Pike County students wore red T-shirts, similar to those worn by rally participants Tuesday.
Some of the students spoke to the crowd about why they want to be teachers after college, and how pension revisions will affect them later in life, said Steven Taylor, principal at Pike Central.
“I think the kids wanted their voice to be heard, too,” Taylor said. “They want us to know that they’re behind us. A lot of times it can seem like we’re at odds with each other, but in actuality we have the same goal, and that’s their education.”
The walkout in Pike County is at least the second student-led walkout in Eastern Kentucky in the past week.
On Friday, students at Breathitt County High School also walked out of class, according to a report by WYMT.
The students in Breathitt County held signs supporting the teachers, including one which read “No Pension, No Teachers, No Education,” according to WYMT.
Taylor said he does not anticipate any more walkouts at Pike Central, but said the students who spoke to the crowd were well-informed about the pension issue and that the effort “was a good show of support.”
Weddington, whose mother is a teacher, said the Pikeville rally inspired her to get involved and help organize the walkout at Pike Central.
Weddington said she plans to attend Eastern Kentucky University, and to work as a middle school or high school teacher after graduation.
“This kind of stuff actually affects me,” Weddington said. “It just really hit home, having the rally in Pike County, knowing my teachers are ready to take a stand.”