Learning Grinds to a Standstill

Times Staff Writer

They were chumming for chicks and a ride to the beach Friday morning, sun chairs and towels tucked under their arms outside Orange High School.

"Go this way," hissed Philip Bond, an 18-year-old senior ducking behind some cypress trees. He grabbed his friend, Michael Post, a 16-year-old junior. "If Loretta (Brown, a campus supervisor) sees us, she'll give us a hassle, man."

Post said he "watched 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' three times and waited for a ride," talking about his first three classes--speech, teacher's aide and drama. "We did a little improv trying to get out a window, but Mrs. Fox (the principal) caught us twice. . . . There's not much point to being here."

The movie about one kid's elaborate scheme to play hooky was suitable viewing Friday on the 2,000-student campus, where attendance during Day 2 of the Orange Unified School District teachers' strike sometimes brought only two or three students to a classroom.

Amid the strike rhetoric, it was mostly a lazy warm day on the pastoral campus a few miles north of the Orange traffic circle--the kind of day that makes you ache to be somewhere besides class. Ordinarily crammed, the student parking lot was barely a quarter filled.

Teachers dressed in Hush Puppies and thongs, sun hats and baseball caps, strolled the sidewalk, waving at students and parents who tapped their car horns and waved back. Many of the educators said they never, in two decades of teaching, had gone on strike. They spoke wistfully of their classes, worrying about their students.

A field trip to the Los Angeles Zoo on Friday for 200 students was canceled because of the strike, Gary Stevens, 42, said sadly. Stevens has taught for 18 years at Orange High, where he created audiocassettes for students of "Capt. Biology," who shrinks to microscopic proportions and describes the human body from the inside out.

A perfect attendance record of 16 years was smudged Thursday when he went on strike, the popular teacher said, "which doesn't feel right even now."

"My students are supposed to be reading Act IV of Julius Caesar," said Terry Waldron, who teaches advanced composition to seniors. "I think that is very appropriate for today. It's about honor and duty and moral conscience, and suddenly I'm out here putting my money where my mouth is. I wish," she added, pointing to an open window in her classroom, "that I was in there."

Those students who showed up for class were met by substitute teachers and a handful of parents, who had them read magazines or watch movies. "I feel like I'm being baby-sat here," said Jenna Butler. "There are no lesson plans and no homework this weekend, and we sure aren't learning anything. I mean, I read during aerobics!"

Lack of homework, as you might imagine, triggered few complaints from the teen-agers. They griped a lot, however, about being bored and "trapped" on campus. Unless they had notes from parents--many did--students were counted truant if seen leaving campus during class.

Jenna and her pal, Tonya Harries, 14, both freshmen, said their parents gave them permission to go to the beach Thursday, the first day of the strike. And by mid-morning Friday, they said they realized that coming to school was a mistake. Because they ride the school bus from their homes in Garden Grove, however, they were stranded.

Jenna said she tried to call her mother on one of the four pay phones on campus.

"They won't let us use the phones to call our parents to come get us," Jenna said. School officials "hang up the phone while you're using it. This lady came up and did that to me and I go, 'Why?' And she's all, 'because class is in session,' and I go, 'I'm calling my Mom!' and she goes, 'No.' "

Tonya contented herself with reading Seventeen magazine during her morning classes because the substitute teachers, who called roll and then allowed students to either talk or get reading material from their lockers, were "seriously bogus."

Brown, campus supervisor and Scrooge to ditchers, was packing a walkie-talkie and busier than usual Friday. She spent the morning stationed in a plastic chair in the middle of Shaffer Street. After the first bell rang, she checked the restrooms for stray students, then circled the Panther campus on foot.

She wasn't thrilled with the strike, she said. She gazed at a cluster of teachers grasping black balloons at the corner, having coffee and doughnuts. The 30 or so picketing teachers wore sandwich boards and brought ice chests, thermoses and other camp gear.

"It looks more like a picnic than a strike," Brown said. "I've worked here seven years and I've only got one raise, $1.02. But I would never go on strike. I like the teachers, respect them. But I'm not sure if I sympathize with them on this. Do they teach better if they make more money? Are the kids learning anything right now? I don't think so."

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