Medford high school students want end to strike

Medford high school students make known their frustrations over strike
North Medford High School students from the left, Christian Carlson, sophomore, Madison Miller, junior, Lars Vanderdoes, junior, Jarred Rider, junior and Jacob Gooding, junior, linger in front of the school after students walked out of class in frustration over the lack of a settlement in the teacher's strike. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell photoBob Pennell

When the tardy bell rang at North Medford High School at 8:35 a.m. Thursday, students began spilling out of their first class of the day and into the adjoining commons area.

The student walkout, protesting the contract standoff that led to a Medford teachers' strike, was organized by North and South Medford high school students via word of mouth and social media.

"It was something we could do to get a message out there without being overly aggressive or putting people in danger." said North senior and Student Body President Aaron Browne-Moore.

A third consecutive day of state-mediated negotiations this week resulted in progress between the Medford School District and Medford Education Association but no contract settlement, district officials reported Thursday evening.

Thursday was the second day of what Medford Education Association officials have referred to as a "media blackout," in which both sides have agreed not to reveal details of specific proposals to the press. The strike entered its third week Thursday.

The previous day's bargaining session ended at about midnight, and bargaining began again at 9:30 a.m. Thursday with both sides working out of separate conference rooms at the Rogue Regency Inn in north Medford.

"I think we kind of hit a speed bump around 3 p.m.," said Superintendent Phil Long. "Both teams stepped back and took another run at it. "We've been able to power over that, and now we're moving ahead."

At 6 p.m., the district team was working on its second proposal. The MEA also had offered two proposals, and there had been "several face-to-face interactions," Long said.

Negotiations were expected to continue late into Wednesday night and, depending on the outcome, resume today.

"As long as they stay, we can continue to hold out hope that something is happening," said Lisa North, MEA spokeswoman and an elementary school instructional coach.

Meanwhile, at North Medford High, students arrived for class at 8:30 a.m. as usual but at 8:35 a.m. made their mass exodus.

Several guest teachers stared on as all or the majority of their students left. Several students reported all their classmates had left and others said only two or three remained in class.

"I think it's important that kids express themselves, and this is how they do that," said Todd Bloomquist, Medford School District's director of secondary education. "They are frustrated, too."

Bloomquist said students have talked about a walkout almost every day since teachers went on strike Feb. 6, but Thursday was the first time they had acted on their threats. He said he appreciated that the students were acting in a "respectful" and "thoughtful" manner.

The walkout was organized by basketball players from both North and South, who had gathered Wednesday to urge a settlement of the dispute that now has entered its third week. But only North students walked out of class Thursday, school officials said.

Jessica Morga, a NMHS junior, and nearly 20 of her classmates got up and walked out of their critical thinking class.

"There was a girl by the door sitting down," Morga said. "At 8:35, she lifted her phone up and every one walked out. There were only two left in the classroom."

Morga said she understood the substitute teachers were just trying to help.

"But it's not the same," she said.

Many students lingered in the commons on their phones or visiting with friends, but others headed out to the picket lines to join their teachers.

North senior Krystina Beech and junior Tyler Rice were two of three students who walked out of their pre-calculus class.


"Ten people said they would, but they chickened out," Beech said.

"Our sub was just staring at us," Rice added.

"I think what everyone is trying to do is tell the board and the union, 'This needs to be done,' " Rice said. "At this point, I don't really care who wins. I just want my teacher back."

Rachel Pfeil, a NMHS sophomore, said she was tired of the fights, drama and unruly behavior of the students and tired of seeing her teachers standing in the cold and rain outside.

"It's a war zone, and we are tired of it," she said.

"There's such an emptiness here, and the atmosphere is down and dreary. I cried yesterday," she said.

When Pfeil stood up in her class, others followed suit.

"We took a stand literally," she said.

After the walkout, freshman Zach Hamar hung out on a bench with his friends outside the school.

"I'd rather be out here supporting my teachers than sitting in class for 40 minutes on my phone," he said, adding that he had used the time to improve his score on "Flappy Bird," a game available on smartphones.

Senior Lindsey Marlott, who was sitting at the opposite end of the bench, said the teachers on the picket lines congratulated the students after the walkout.

Tornado teacher Nance Louise said she was moved by the students' action and felt "whole" having them beside her.

"They are young adults trying to figure out where they are at in all of this," she said. "They are not just supporting us, but the idea of education."

South Principal Kevin Campbell said he had not received any reports of walkouts at his school.

Jasmin Falls, a South sophomore on the basketball team, said Wednesday that she planned to participate in a walkout at her school but reported Thursday that she had changed her mind.

She said her coach, Tom Cole, told the team that it needed to focus on its goal of getting to the state championship. The team is ranked No. 1 in the state for large schools.

"Honestly, we have worked really hard to be where we're at," she said Thursday evening. "And we support our teachers, but we know that they wouldn't want us to jeopardize anything."

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or by email at tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.



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