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Students Back Teachers in Contract Fight : About 85% Join in Boycotting Classes at Fountain Valley High School

Times Staff Writer

About 85% of Fountain Valley High School’s 3,400 students boycotted classes Tuesday in support of teachers involved in a bitter contract dispute with the local high school district.

Final estimates of absentee students ranged from 80%, according to Huntington Beach Union High School District administrators, to 90%, according to some teachers.

At Edison High School in Huntington Beach, about 20% of the students staged a similar walkout, which followed a teacher “sickout” last Friday at three of the district’s seven schools, including Fountain Valley. The boycott did not spread to the other five campuses, and attendance is expected to return to normal today.

Negotiations Stalemated

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Negotiations between the administration and teachers have been at a stalemate for several months. A state mediator has been unable to settle the dispute, and teachers have formed informational picket lines at several of the schools before classes. Tuesday morning before classes began, about 30 teachers demonstrated in front of the Fountain Valley High campus on Bushard Street in Fountain Valley.

Teachers and other white-collar, non-administrative workers are demanding a 5% salary increase and recently rejected the district’s “last, best and final offer” of 3%.

Beginning last Friday, when a reported 200 of the district’s 700 teachers called in sick, flyers calling for Tuesday’s boycott began circulating among students at Fountain Valley High. The flyers were signed, “the underground.”

Like Friday’s sickout, which Assistant Supt. Glen Dysinger said resulted in 60% absenteeism among students at the Fountain Valley campus, Tuesday’s boycott will hurt the district financially.

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Could Cost $40,800

The district receives state funds based on the average daily attendance of the previous school year. Each unexcused absence costs the district about $15. Thus, the estimated 2,720 absences Tuesday at Fountain Valley High could cost the district $40,800. Excuses normally are granted only when a student brings a note from a parent saying the student was sick, Dysinger said.

Most of the students at Fountain Valley High missed the entire school day, both teachers and administrators said. Principal Dave Hagen said “close to half” of the students were present for the first period, but several teachers--holding classes in almost empty rooms--contested that estimate.

Math teacher Mike Hollinden said he surveyed 50 of his colleagues and found an average of 30% attendance for the first period, 25% for the second period and only 13% to 15% during the fourth period. “That means that 85% of the students chose to stay away from class,” Hollinden said.

Another math teacher, Jerry Tolman, said he thought the show of support was “great,” and demonstrated “the kids’ concern and recognition that if it weren’t for teachers, the school just wouldn’t run.”

‘We’re Not Really Helping’

But some students said they doubt that boycott will be effective. Erin Reach, a 15-year-old sophomore who spent the afternoon at the beach, said, “We’re not really helping the teachers. We’d be more help if we were picketing outside the school.” But, she said, the teachers deserve all the support they can get.

A companion, Rob Flinn, who said that only two students showed up for his first-period class, said many teachers lately appear to be less interested in teaching, a concern echoed by several other students. “Since last week, teachers don’t really don’t teach anymore. They just give us books and tell us to read,” he said.

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Principal Hagen said he was unaware of any teacher disinterest, but Dysinger said he had “heard those rumors.” The district dispatched about 10 extra administrators to the campus Friday and Tuesday to monitor the situation, he said.

“Teachers shouldn’t be paid if they’re not teaching,” Dysinger said. If they are “flagrantly” neglecting their duties, he said, “they might not be paid.” As of Tuesday afternoon, no teachers had been pinpointed, Dysinger said, but if the principal determines a teacher is negligent, his or her pay could be docked.

Two youths said they had heard about a beach party Tuesday but decided to attend classes because of football practice. Tom Hartshorn, 15, and Erik Walters, 16, said leaving school only to return a few hours later “would’ve been a waste of time.”

The two were the only students in teacher Jan Tolson’s fourth-period English class.

Outside the school, Carrie Frederick and Shannon Walker, both 15, waiting for a parent to pick them up, said their first two classes had been attended by four to nine students, and “we didn’t do anything.” The pair then decided to call it a day.

Disneyland for Some

“Some kids went to Disneyland--they have money,” Carrie said, “but we’re just going home.”

Bill Bianchi, executive director of West Orange County United Teachers, an umbrella organization that includes the District Educators Assn. which represents teachers in contract negotiations, said that while he knew of the boycott, the teachers’ primary concern is student education.

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“The association does not encourage--nor have we asked--our people to encourage students to boycott classes,” Bianchi said. After receiving calls from worried parents last week, he said, “We told our people that (a student boycott) is not an appropriate action.” Bianchi conceded, however, that “teachers are happy that someone in this world supports their position.”


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