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'It's Ruch': School maintains a semblance of normalcy

Students leaving Ruch Elementary on Thursday said they were happy regular teachers were in their classes.

"We knew that they loved us and would come for us," eighth-grader Dylan Jensen said. "It's Ruch."

Superintendent Phil Long said Thursday "a substantial number" of Ruch teachers were in their classrooms.

Neither Long nor Medford Education Association officials would say exactly how many teachers had crossed the picket line.

"I think the decision to come in and teach is a personal decision, and everyone has had to make hard decisions in this," Long said.

"I know circumstances are a little different out in the country schools compared to in town," Long said.

The Ruch community has long supported its small school of about 200 students. In October 2005, after district officials said they might close the school to save money, Ruch residents rallied, claiming the school as the heart of their rural community. The district agreed to keep the school open at least one more year to give supporters a chance to increase enrollment and cut costs.

And they did. They started a homeschool-support program, offered a combined seventh and eighth grade and taught on a four-day schedule as they worked to make the school more sustainable.

MEA President Cheryl Lashley said not all Ruch teachers went back to class, and some were on the picket lines with other teachers this week. Picketing occurred at Ruch Elementary Tuesday and Wednesday, but not Thursday, as there were "other focuses," Lashley said.

"They are in their classrooms with their kids, and we're fighting to return to our classrooms and our kids," she said.

Four parents of Ruch students said Thursday that their children were being taught by their usual teachers and not substitutes since returning to school Tuesday.

Medford teachers went on strike Feb. 6 and, in response, the Medford School District combined schools, shortened school days to four hours and canceled school for three days. Students were back in class Tuesday.

Attendance at Ruch Elementary Thursday was 92 percent, while attendance districtwide dropped from 52 percent Wednesday to 48 percent Thursday, according to figures posted on the district website.

"I don't blame teachers for wanting more for themselves," said Alexis Bernards, whose 8-year-old son, Isaiah, attends Ruch Elementary.

"The teachers work with diseased mongrels all day. They deserve good health insurance, and everybody wants better pay."

Bernards, who has two other children at home, said she was glad her son didn't have to go to another school. She said her son previously had attended a Medford school. Since transferring to Ruch, his reading scores and math skills have improved, she said.

"My kids are definitely excited that their teachers are here," said Leah Heusser, who has preschool and second- and eighth-grade kids at Ruch.

"I think it's great that the teachers came back," said Jennice Dauenhauer, who was picking up her third-grade granddaughter, Brooke, at Ruch Thursday.

"You can't have everything in life."

Like other schools in the district, Ruch was reduced to a four-hour school day during the strike.

Dylan said he had math, computer, language arts and science class Thursday. His other classes — sustainability, physical education and social studies — were canceled for the time being.

Dylan and three of his friends — Truett Bostwick, Saige Bostwick and Justice Evans — said their science teacher sung the students a love song Wednesday.

"He said we are the reason he came back," Dylan said.

"It's a total blessing to me," said Kim Evans, Justice's mother and Dylan's ride home. "It's like they are putting the kids first."

In the absence of physical education, Kim Evans said the teachers are getting pretty inventive and were hosting an Olympic competition today.

"They've had the same teachers every day and can continue what they have been learning in the classroom," she said.

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

Ruch Elelmentary School students Dylan Jensen, 8th grade, Truett Bostwick, 6th grade, Justice Evans, 8th grade, and Saige Bostwick, 8th grade, are happy to have their regular teachers during the strike. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Bob Pennell