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Portland Students Stage Walkout In Support of Teachers

Students and parents are showing their solidarity with Portland teachers as school administrators seek to eliminate limits on class size.

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All of these things affect students, he said, and would only be made worse by the district's proposal. "This is why the teachers' proposal is what's better for students."

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The afternoon before the walkout, Wilson Principal Brian Chatard sent an e-mail to all parents urging them to discuss the protest with their children and help them "reconsider the decision to leave school during class time." Parents and students were told that a marked absence would affect their participation in extracurricular activities that day, such as drama rehearsals and sports competitions.

"It is completely reasonable for students to get involved, discuss the issues, form their own opinions and, if necessary, express their constitutional right to protest, march, rally, chant, etc." wrote Principal Chatard in the e-mail. "I am proud to see that our students want to have their voice heard before the issue is decided...However, it is not acceptable for students to leave the building during instructional time."

Menger explained that the smaller-than-desired turnout was due to fear among students, not apathy. In the days before the walkout, he says that many students told him directly that they were in support of the walkout, but that they'd be "risking too much," fearing they would face suspension or detention after seeing Chatard's e-mail.

"In reality, they're not actually risking too much," he said. "It's just that our rules are so vague that they're being interpreted incorrectly and used against us. I think that when [the students who didn't walk out] see that we did this, and we were okay, we'll begin to see more students joining us in future actions."

However, while the intimidation from the administration may have helped to hold back a portion of students, it had the opposite effect on some parents.

"The principal informed us that our kids would be punished if they participate, and asked parents to help their students 'reconsider participating,'" wrote parent Justin Norton-Kertson on a Facebook event page he created in response to the principal's e-mail. "Instead, I am encouraging my kid to walk out, and I'll be standing across the street from the walkout meeting point with a sign that says, 'Parents support teachers and the student walkout!'"

One Wilson parent and member of IATSE Local 28 who attended the protest, expressed her support for the students' walkout as well as her own frustrations with the district. "Some of us have had kids in the school system for a long time and we've watched it degrade, and we're seeing [the district] not be [transparent] in explaining everything," she said.

She explained how the district e-mails parents their updates and their version of what's going on with the negotiations, but when parents ask for the teachers' side they are just provided with links and told to find it themselves. "So PPS can just e-mail us with their side of the story, but teachers don't get the same right. I think it's wrong that we're getting one-sided messaging," she said.

The parent hoped that rallies like these could help make more people aware of the issue and explained that, even if they don't have kids in the school system, Portland residents should support teachers. "These are our future leaders," she said. "We've got to educate them."

In addition to parents, students from other high schools came out to support the action at Wilson. Ian Jackson, one of a handful of Cleveland High School students present at the walkout and a member of Cleveland's Student Union, addressed the crowd at the rally, speaking to why he and others from Cleveland had come: