On a normal Friday, Scott Travis would have been in third-period philosophy class. But last Friday, he was in the middle of a surprise student demonstration that disrupted West High School. A fellow student sat on his shoulders, brandishing a sign reading, “We care, do you?”
Travis, 17, was one of hundreds of West High students who walked out of their classes to show support for their teachers’ salary demands in negotiations with the Torrance Unified School District.
“We went into class, got up and left,” said Travis.
Vickie Montoya, 17, who sat on Travis’ shoulders during the protest outside the school’s main entrance, said: “Teachers are always mistreated, and we can’t do much. But what we can do, we will do.”
School routine was disrupted for about 2 1/2 hours after students staged the 10:30 a.m. walkout. Most students returned to class after the lunch period.
The district’s teachers, whose contract expired June 30, have requested an 8% annual salary increase. But district officials, citing budget constraints, have offered a 1% raise, and talks have made little progress over the last several months.
Students insisted their teachers did not instigate the walkout. And they said none of the faculty joined in it.
“There’s no one person responsible for this--especially the faculty,” said Rena Blanco, 17, who said she stayed up most of Thursday night making signs for the protest.
Several students said talk of the walkout began in the middle of last week. It was originally planned for Tuesday, but was moved up because of concerns that administrators would learn of it, the students said.
Jenni Tanaka, 17, the senior class president, said the walkout had the backing of the student council.
William A. Franchini, executive director of the Torrance Teachers Assn., the teachers’ union, visited the high school during the protest to distribute notices to teachers, warning that the union “does not sanction nor advocate involving students in our contract dispute with the district.”
Franchini also questioned the effectiveness of the walkout, but added, “their hearts are in the right place.”
Some students estimated that more than 1,000 participated in the walkout at the 1,492-student high school. An exact count of the number participating was not available from police or the school district.
But shortly before noon, more than 300 students were milling around outside the school entrance, cheering and listening to fellow students speak. Scores of other students were scattered around the campus.
William Bawden, West High School principal, did not return telephone calls for comment on the walkout or whether disciplinary action is planned.
Students say they will renew their show of support for the teachers Monday night by attending a Torrance school board meeting. The teachers’ union plans to picket at the meeting.
The district and union last met in negotiations last Tuesday, and some progress was made, Franchini said. The union represents 900 teachers, librarians, counselors and other employees who work for the district’s 27 schools.