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Emotional countdown over strike issue

Children leaving Roosevelt Elementary School Wednesday didn't know when they would see their teachers again.

"At the end of the day, most of the girls in my class started crying, and the teacher was crying," said fourth-grader Ruby Jacobsen through tears of her own.

As Ruby's tears began to flow, her aunt watching nearby started to cry, too.

"We are hoping all this gets figured out and figured out soon," said Crystal Ellis, who is legal guardian to Ruby and her younger sister, Katie Jacobsen.

Ellis said Katie, a third-grade student at Roosevelt, has some special needs, making any change "really stressful."

Roosevelt was one of the schools selected to relocate should teachers go on strike this morning. Students would be bused to Jackson Elementary for afternoon classes.

By press time Wednesday, Medford School District and Medford Education Association bargaining teams were still negotiating a labor contract with two state mediators. If a settlement wasn't reached overnight, teachers planned to strike at 6 a.m. today.

The Medford School District canceled classes today regardless of whether a settlement was reached, and if a strike does occur, classes wouldn't resume until Tuesday.

School days would be shortened to four hours, substitute teachers would take the place of striking teachers, and schools such as Roosevelt would be combined with larger schools. (See chart on this page for class schedules.)

The district also would hire security personnel to monitor all school campuses, Superintendent Phil Long has said.

Julie Evans, director of elementary education, and other administrators decided the largest schools would absorb the smaller schools in the event of a strike. North and South Medford high schools are the district's largest campuses, and Hoover, Griffin Creek and Lone Pine elementary schools had more classrooms than the other elementary schools, she said.

"Once we knew we needed to use our biggest schools, then we began to match based on proximity," she said.

Transportation details will be announced later this week, district officials said.

"If a student rides the bus to school, they will continue to have a bus," Evans said. "If a student walks to school, they'll be walking to their home school where a staff member will meet them, help them onto the bus and ride with them to their destination school."

Students can expect to see many familiar faces, including their school principals, secretaries, campus monitors and other support staff, Evans said.

"I'm anticipating we will have a good, healthy adult-to-student ratio," she said. "And we'll make sure it's safe."

Long said Tuesday the district had enough substitutes in place to fill in for teachers during the strike.

"My teacher said she would see us when the strike was over," said Ella Shultz, a fifth-grade student at Roosevelt.

All teachers were required to check out of their classrooms Wednesday afternoon. Principals met with each teacher individually to discuss lesson plans and locate teachers' editions, answer keys and other materials needed for instruction. Administrators also collected the teachers' keys and identification badges.

"They also (were) given their check of what's owed them," Evans said, describing these interactions as "professional but emotional."

"The union members have a right to strike, but the district has an obligation to continue instruction and inventory the district assets."

All teachers had to follow the same checkout procedure.

"We want it to be a confidential decision of teacher choice, and there are procedures in place for teachers that would like to return to work," Evans said. "That procedure has been shared with all teachers."

Picketing would take place in public areas, not on school property, and teachers would abide by city ordinances, assured Rebecca Konefal, an Oregon Education Association representative.

"The entire point of this labor action is to encourage the district to keep progressing at the bargaining table," she said.

Many of the parents and guardians picking up their kids after school Wednesday had not decided whether they would send them to classes during a strike.

Genevieve Shultz, Ella's mom, said she planned to let her daughter go the first day to see how she adapted. If the substitutes turned out to be "glorified baby sitters," she said she would keep Ella home and "keep her busy with reading and math."

According to state law, students can't miss more than 10 consecutive days of school or their enrollment will be withdrawn.

However, a student can miss nine consecutive days, attend school for a half day, and the 10-day count restarts.

"A lot is in the air, and we're just planning it as we go," Ellis said.

If parents have questions about their students' schedule, they may call one of the district's three hotlines: 541-842-1084, 541-842-1086 or 541-842-1085.

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

Roosevelt Elementary School fourth-grader Ruby Jacobsen leaves school Wednesday afternoon following an emotional classroom goodbye as teacher Marji Luther takes a box of personal classroom items to her car.