Attendance in schools across the Medford School District dropped for the third consecutive day, as parents chose to keep children at home and some older students joined the picket lines with their teachers.

Attendance in schools across the Medford School District dropped for the third consecutive day, as parents chose to keep children at home and some older students joined the picket lines with their teachers.

Less than half of the district's more than 12,000 students went to school Thursday, according to district reports.

On Tuesday, the first day of classes since a teachers' strike began Feb. 6, attendance was at 68 percent. It dropped to 52 percent on Wednesday and 48 percent on Thursday.

Ruch Elementary topped the attendance chart Thursday, with 92 percent of its students reporting to school, and Central Medford High School took the low end, with an attendance rate of 24 percent.

Attendance at North Medford plummeted from 81 percent Tuesday to 36 percent Thursday. Dozens of North students stood outside during what should have been their fourth and last period of classes, saying they didn't see the point of attending school without their teachers.

"Most people are doing their own studying or staying home," said Maya Roussell, who attended school but mostly kept to the library and did her own work.

"I'm trying to make the best of it. But last block I decided to come out here and picket instead."

Roussell said some of the substitutes are taking classes into their own hands, attempting to interact with students instead of only supervising them.

"Some of the subs are doing their own thing, and I've had a couple subs interacting," she said.

The sophomore said she probably would continue to come to school in the morning and then picket for the duration of the strike.

"I feel like people are just kind of waiting it out," she said. "We're at a standstill."

Down the sidewalk from Roussell, senior Tomi Roderick was talking with his English teacher, Traci Peugh.

"It's a joke, the learning is a joke," said Roderick, who left after his first morning class.

Mariel Hollowell and Brittany Brockbank said things had gotten a little more organized since Tuesday, but classes remained excessively large or small.

"The teachers aren't really teaching us anything," said Hollowell.

Roderick said the students were assigned classrooms, but the classes weren't in a particular subject. He said he was with other seniors, but not those normally in his classes, and that there was no assignments given out. Students were just able to use computers, he said.

"I've been leaving to go work on my senior project," said Roderick.

Roderick said school had become more organized since Tuesday, when he and the other seniors were assigned to stay in the commons or the library, supervised by two librarians.

"It makes me really sad," said Peugh, listening to Roderick describe the conditions inside the school. "We want to be in there, it's really hard."

Peugh said the strike had caught her during the middle of a unit, breaking up projects and interrupting book reading.

"We've never (before) heard from kids how much they want to be in school," she said. "I don't understand how this is OK."

Peugh said she didn't blame the high school's administration for the reportedly chaotic conditions inside the school, but instead pointed to the low number of substitute teachers on campus.

"Even if (the subs) are well-meaning, there are 25 subs when we normally have 80 teachers," she said.

Hedrick teacher John Kline said he remained hopeful that things would be resolved soon, but didn't read too far into the reported progress at the bargaining table earlier in the day.

Now into his third day of picketing, Kline preferred to discuss how things appeared to be going inside in his science classes.

"Based on what the kids are saying, the subs are just in there trying to juggle things," he said.

Kline said he left plenty of clear lesson plans, but from what he's heard, they aren't being followed.

"They could have run two weeks with it," he said.

Health teacher Erika Wright said teachers were doing their best to remain positive despite the situation.

"The morale is high, we're all feeling really good," she said. "We know that it's a crazy circus in there. It's a circus in there, and we are staying strong out here."

Wright said once a contract is settled, it may take some time for things to seem normal again.

"Normalcy is what we want," she said. "When we get back in, we're going to work our butts off to get the kids where they need to be."

Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at Mail Tribune reporter Sam Wheeler contributed to this story.