Strike Prompts Many Students to Stay Out of Class

Times Staff Writers

Classes had only been under way an hour Wednesday when Tom Stuart pulled his 14-year-old son out of Western High School in Anaheim. It wasn't that Stuart was worried about his youngster's safety during a daylong teacher strike or even that he was disappointed in the day's lesson plan.

Stuart wanted his son to be able to join his instructors on the picket line, without reprisal.

"I can't see my son being taught by what I call scabs pulling $180 while the others out here are trying to get more money," Stuart, a truck driver from Buena Park, said as he carried a picket sign with his son, Tom, and the teachers.

Wednesday's first strike in Anaheim Union High School District's history of more than 90 years forced teachers, administrators, students and parents to deal with a less-than-normal school day featuring security guards, substitute teachers and, in many cases, empty classrooms.

Scenes varied from campus to campus. While well-behaved pupils studied quietly at Brookhurst Junior High in Anaheim, students walked out of several high schools to show support for teachers, or just to play hooky.

At Western High School, senior Brian Starkey was one of several students who casually strayed out of an economics class along the campus' edge to chat with striking teachers. His substitute teacher, he said, "is just sitting there, not doing a damn thing." He and other students milling about said their substitutes made no attempt to teach, and some were rude to the students, they said. Starkey said his substitute gave the students material to read "and then everybody got paper wads and threw them at her."

Asked one teacher watching the unruly students, "This is the district's view of a safe learning environment?"

A few minutes later, about 200 students streamed out of classrooms, marching around the campus to pick up additional followers before joining teachers on the picket line in a show of support.

"This is not just a day out of school for us; this is a fight," said Ginny Hard, a 16-year-old junior at Western. Added another student: "We wouldn't be here (in the picket line at school) at all if we didn't care."

Soon afterward, a school administrator walked past classrooms, closing doors that provided views of the strikers. According to the district, 596 of the campus' 1,300 students were truant.

Hal Kough, a striking economics teacher whose students were observed wandering in and out of the classroom, said he left a detailed lesson plan for the substitute. "What they (students) are doing is not what I would call accomplishing the lesson. . . . The fact that they are outside is because of a lack of substitute supervision, not a lack of educational material."

At Cypress High School, 431 of the campus' 1,400 students reported to school Wednesday morning, according to the district, but about 200 of those soon left. Students reportedly also left several other high schools. However, all campuses remained open throughout the day, according to district officials.

At Loara High School, two-thirds of the 1,600 students were truant, according to district figures. And some of those who went to class said they didn't learn much.

"They just baby-sat us," said Katherine Lo, a 15-year-old sophomore. "We just all goofed off and the (substitutes) just stared at us hopelessly."

Chris Finch, 15, who was leaving Loara after school with Lo, said he had attended his classes because he wanted to "see what was going on," unlike classmates who had gone because their parents made them.

'Didn't Learn Anything'

Although both Finch and Lo said they supported the strike, they felt the day was really a waste.

"Actually nobody should have come today, because we really didn't learn anything," Finch said. But he said he was glad the teachers were on strike. "They deserve better, especially at the high school level where they have to go through so much junk."

But other students expressed anger that the strike was interfering with their course work.

"Sure they need more money, but what about us?" said Jennifer Chestnut, 17. "We have to learn." The junior said she spent one of her class periods filling in a coloring book.

Another junior, Lisa McGinnis, 16, agreed.

"The teachers should negotiate on their own time and not take it out on us."

At a fast-food restaurant across from Anaheim High School, about 10 boys hung out, debating where to go next. All said they had "ditched" their classes at the school at varying times during the school day, and now were anxious to move on.

"During second period a lot of the juniors and seniors walked out, so we did too," said Roy Morales, 16, a sophomore. According to the district, 48% of the school's 2,000 students did not attend classes Wednesday.

The boys discussed whether they backed the teachers, but soon the subject was where to go next. "Let's go check out Katella" High School, said one.

When they got there, they saw a big marquee that announced, "Day of the Teacher, May 10." Under it, teachers with signs were marching around in a circle.

The boys drove on.

Students at junior high schools appeared more willing to stay on campus and study.

'Calm, Cool, Collected'

At Brookhurst Junior High, students quietly worked on science assignments, watched films on chemistry and discussed economics, all under the supervision of substitute teachers. No students wandered about on campus.

"We're calm, cool and collected," said Principal Ken McKee. According to district figures, Brookhurst was one of the least impacted campuses, with 70% of the students accounted for, and 31 of 42 teachers on strike.

McKee said the teachers left good lesson plans and no substitutes had to rely on the district's backup educational materials.

"It's been a good day. I'm proud of the whole outfit, the teacher substitutes, the kids, the clerical help," he said.

Brookhurst Assistant Principal Elizabeth Thom said several substitutes commented that they initially were apprehensive about the day, but were pleased at the organization.

"One said it was nice to teach, not just baby-sit or show movies," Thom said.

In front of Orangeview Junior High before school began, several students who were asked what they planned to do during the day shouted in unison, "Nothing!" They also talked about walking off campus to show their support for their teachers.

But a striking teacher who overheard told them they had better stay at their desks.

"You guys can't go on a picket line," teacher Ed Craig told them. "Your place is in school."

Times staff writer Kim Jackson contributed to this story.

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