A three-word sign summed up Jordan Pinkham's thoughts on the labor standoff between Eagle Point School District administrators and employees: "It's our education."
Pinkham, a 17-year-old senior at the high school, joined a crowd of about 100 students, several of whom held similar signs in a public protest at about 12:40 p.m. Thursday.
Students walked out of their classrooms, marched out of school and gathered at the intersection of Highway 62 and Linn Road near Walmart, waving signs and chanting "Eagle Power" while receiving a volley of honks from passing motorists.
Their message was largely one of support for teachers and other school employees.
"They respect the teachers," Pinkham said of the crowd. "They want their education to be at the level it should be at."
Other written messages — some painted on bare skin — included "The teachers deserve RESPECT," and "We don't want 6 periods. We want all 7."
The district and its employees' union bargained for 13 months before reaching an impasse in late March.
Employees are concerned about teacher prep time and the possibility of subcontracting out transportation jobs, while administrators counter they have offered wage and benefit increases, but say meeting the union demands would require layoffs or elimination of class days.
Union members voted to go out on strike beginning Tuesday, May 8, but another negotiation session is set for 1 p.m. Monday. School will not be open Monday, as the district prepares for the possibility of the strike.
News about the student walk-out spread through word of mouth and a few mass-sent text messages. But students said this was not just a lark.
"We're not here just to skip," said Chris Butler, 17-year-old junior.
Students said they came to support their teachers, but also to protest what the district's next steps could be if they walk off the job Tuesday, including hiring substitute teachers via Craigslist, reducing the number of class periods and hiring out-of-town bus drivers.
"We don't want some teacher that we don't know and don't trust to teach us," said sophomore Danielle Peterson, 16.
District administrators say they will hire substitutes to ensure that seniors can graduate on time and that other students can continue to attend classes if the strike occurs.
Sara Pitner, the mother of a middle school and a high school student in the district, said her mother is a school bus driver for Eagle Point. She attended the protest to show her support for district employees.
"I moved back to Eagle Point so my kids could be in this school," Pitner said.
Two deputies from the Jackson County Sheriff's Office responded to the scene but left after a few minutes. No arrests were made.
"(It was) just to make sure everything was all right and nothing was out of hand," said sheriff's office spokeswoman Andrea Carlson.
Eagle Point High School officials could not be reached for comment about the protest, though students said they were told they would receive five days of lunch detention for leaving school.
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org