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First day back to school described as 'mass confusion' and 'heartbreaking'

Oak Grove Elementary School parents showed up to school this morning expecting their kids to catch a bus to Howard, where they will attend classes during the teachers' strike, but were told they would have to drive instead.

The Medford School District had posted a bus schedule online and told parents their kids would have transportation to the host school.

"I feel terrible," said Angela Carson, parent of a second-grader. "My son is 8 and he doesn't want to go to school.

"I hope they get over this and get things figured out," she said.

Oak Grove teachers waved to kids in buses and ran to cars to give kids hugs and talk to parents as they dropped off their children at Howard Elementary, where they will attend classes. "Have a great day," one teacher told her student.

On the picket line, Oak Grove fifth-grade teacher Cindy Woodard said, "You can't have quality education, when quality education is walking the sidewalk."

Other teachers described it as "sad," "heartbreaking" and "gut-wrenching" to see their students going back to school without them.

Jack Mitchell, who was dropping off fourth-grader Tucker, said it was going to be Tucker's first day at Oak Grove. He'd been transferred from Wilson after the family moved recently.

"It's a messed-up deal for parents and kids," he said, later describing the situation as "mass confusion."

Another parent, Sarah Sweet, said she was able to get her first-grader, who attended Howard, enrolled at VIBES Charter School but there was no room for her third- and fifth-graders, whom she's keeping home.

She said she was worried about safety and that it was too difficult to arrange transportation and day care for her children during the teachers' strike, and that her kids "wouldn't learn much."

"One of our kids isn't doing well in school. If we sent him, he would just mess around anyway," she said.

Another parent, Dylan Daniel, walked his son D.J. to school and said the strike wasn't a big deal for his family and that his son was excited about the shorter day.

Earlier this morning, about 30 substitute teachers were loaded onto four buses to be transported from Fairfield Inn in Central Point to Howard Elementary. Principal Sallie Johnson greeted the teachers and rode the bus with them, as did principals of other schools.

An official working with the Medford School District told the substitutes on the bus they did not have to talk to the media or give a reporter their name if they did talk on the record.

A substitute teacher from Amity said he would be teaching fifth grade for the first part of the day at Howard, and fourth grade during the afternoon at a different school. "It's a job," he said, adding he has been subbing for three years. "I don't know what they're picketing about but it doesn't really bother me."

A Hillsboro woman said she left six older kids at home to substitute-teach fifth grade for the Medford School District. "I was a little apprehensive," she said, adding she was torn between feeling unwanted and wanting to help. She said she needed the income.

Superintendent Phil Long was expected to hold a press conference to detail how the morning went between 9:30 or 10 a.m.

— Teresa Thomas

See complete strike coverage at www.mailtribune.com/medfordstrike.

Oak Grove teachers greet their students from the picket line as they go into Howard Elementary School. - Bob Pennell