Saturday, November 14, 2009

McNary Protest, Pt. 2

Published Jan. 28, 2005, in the Keizertimes

Students at McNary High School say they've always been aware of the various cliques at their school, but during last Friday's protest about 150 of them discovered that they were all part of one big McNary clique.

Students gathered in the commons during second period for a sit-in protest in support of their teachers who have been working without a contract since the beginning of the school year.

"We had people from almost every group within the school," said junior Emily Rodriguez. "We even had freshman girls sitting with us at our table."

Students sat at tables during the 90-minute protest and read aloud from an open letter written by four of the protest organizers and excerpts from the student handbook.

The four organizers - Cameron Haider, Max Breedlove, Josh Egner and Josh Lopez - began organizing the protest almost two weeks before it was held after having conversations with each other over why it was necessary.

They began circulating fliers about a week before the protest and enlisted the help of friends to make signs. Lastly, they drafted a one-page letter explaining the reasons for the protest.

Reasons included the proposed sunset of the district's early retirement incentives and the district's offer of a 2 percent pay raise after teachers agreed to freeze their salaries in order that school days would not be sacrificed in the 2003-2004 school year.

Haider, Breedlove and Lopez were kept away from the protest for its duration, as well as through their lunch and third period. Egner was the only one to participate in the sit-in.

"I had about 700 copies of the letter and I was trying to get them passed out to everyone as quickly as possible," said Egner.

Egner said that the number of students who seized the opportunity to skip class was likely equal to the number who were there for political reasons.

Overall, the experience for the politically minded students was a positive one. In addition to a newfound unity with their peers, students found that their actions had consequences - some expected, others not.

Haider and Breedlove both received suspensions for their participation, another student Marcus Pellico was booted from the final two performances of the school play.

Unlike many students who talked about their experience in the protest, Pellico did not have his parent's permission to participate.

"It was something I thought over before doing and I don't regret participating. If it's the difference between this or a strike, then this was much less disruptive," said Pellico.

Several students, including sophomore Emily Cary, did have their parents' permission to participate in the protest.

Cary's mother is a teacher at a school in the Salem-Keizer School District and the contract talks have had a profound impact on her life outside school.

"Maybe we didn't have the entire school participating, but we had enough students to make a point," said Cary.

She said that she was amazed at how seriously many of her peers also felt passionately about the subject.

"Our teachers go out of their way to allow us to take part in special projects even if it means paying for it themselves, and this is one way we are able to give back," said Rodriguez.

"I love my teachers and I don't think they are being treated fairly," said Stephanie Brundidge.

Students also learned about the strength of numbers.

"It made it easier to know hat there were others who felt the same way I do," said sophomore Mary Carter. "People may not agree, but it's important to be heard."

Egner and Breedlove said that after the protest ended they felt a "huge rush of accomplishment."

"Our point was to make ourselves heard and to get people talking," Breedlove said. "We definitely did that."

Students don't know if the protest could have an impact on the larger issue of the teacher contracts, but at least one teacher at McNary expressed gratitude in an anonymous note given directly to students.

"The administration takes the position that today was a disruption of the learning process," it states. "Because you were not in class you were not learning. I believe just the opposite ... I think today was a teachable moment. I think today you seized the moment and showed how much you understand the political process and your right to be involved."

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