Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ohio's School Of Mess

Students are jumping through the windows, the teachers are on strike, and the security guards have been fired for failing their background checks. Looks like a mess-in-progress:
PERKINS TOWNSHIP -- Teachers voted for no confidence in the administration, four students climbed out of high school windows and eight security guards were fired for failing background checks.

Yet the administration said schools were running as smoothly as possible in the second day of the Perkins Schools teachers' strike.

No new negotiation meetings as of last night were set for the teachers, administration and board members.

However, chants, signs and a lock-down greeted sophomores, juniors and seniors as they attended their first day of the school year at Perkins High School yesterday.

Operations ran smoothly, said Superintendent Sherry Buccieri, but students offered a different assessment.

The scene inside the high school was ''crazy,'' as ''chaos'' reigned while students watched television, talked on cellular telephones and played the card game Uno, according to several students.

About 19 students who had parental excuses left their high school classes around 12:15 p.m., prompting a lockdown at the school to ensure safety of students and staff, Buccieri said. While there were no immediate reports of threats or violence, the school followed the protocol so teachers could take attendance and account for students, she said.

Once the lockdown ended, police were posted at the high school doors, students said. About 2 p.m., at least four girls climbed out the first-floor window of an English classroom facing Campbell Street, where dozens of teachers marched next to the road.

''That was basically the only way out without being stopped,'' said Jessica Evans, who started her senior year in school and ended the day by climbing out the window.

''There was not other way to get out because they locked all the doors,'' said Beth Dahlmann, another senior who climbed out.

The students stood as a group with fellow seniors Laura Speer, Brittany Keegan, Keith Martinez and Melissa Frisch in the public right-of-way outside Perkins High School. Keegan, Speer and Martinez had parental excuses to leave school part-way through the day, while Frisch said she climbed out a window rather than stay inside.

Last year's first day of school was better organized, the group said.

''It's just not something you picture on the first day of school your senior year, or any year,'' Speer said.

It was unclear how many students who walked out also were children of striking teachers. Buccieri reported 10 students were, but the high school seniors said the number was five.

During the high school dismissal, teachers chanted: ''One, two, three, four, show Sherry to the door. Five, six, seven, eight, why won't she negotiate?'' Hand-written signs read ''Negotiate Now!'' ''Safe?'' and ''Support Perkins Teachers.''

In the parking lot, a red sport-utility vehicle blasted the '80s metal anthem ''We're Not Gonna Take It'' by Twisted Sister.

Perkins police guided traffic as cars and school buses backed up in a line at least a quarter-mile long in both lanes of Campbell Street. At least some of the cars honked their horns repeatedly as they passed by the school.

''It's nice to hear people beeping,'' Speer said.

''It's reassuring to hear people supporting,'' Martinez said.

Speaking about the activities in the high school, Buccieri said she would ''highly doubt'' that Principal Chris Gasteier and Assistant Principal Mark Dahlmann would tolerate students being unruly.

She said any student disciplinary actions, including those for students who leave without parental notes, would be left to building principals. Gasteier yesterday declined to speak to reporters, deferring instead to Buccieri and the school board.

The students leaving school was not considered a walkout because they had parents' permission to leave, Buccieri said.

''They were dismissed, and perhaps this was staged,'' she said.

Despite the tumult, over two days the high school's initial reports showed 10 of 570 students were absent from their respective first days of school. Freshmen started Monday, grades 10 to 12 yesterday and the four classes will be together today.

''I find this gratifying and a testament to the community's interest in their children receiving an education in challenging circumstances,'' Buccieri said.

Among the other schools, Buccieri reported yesterday's attendance as:

-- 59 absences of 527 enrolled at Briar Middle School, which has grades seven and eight.

-- 53 absences of 269 enrolled at Furry Elementary Schools, with grades kindergarten to two.

-- 84 absences of 509 enrolled at Meadowlawn Intermediate School, which has grades three, four and five.

Students at the high school received their handbooks, had their photos taken and reviewed homeroom procedures, Buccieri said. She added she toured Meadowlawn and Furry schools in the morning.

''There were lots of good, solid educational assessments being done,'' Buccieri said.

The district also reported 122 administrators, qualified substitute teachers and highly qualified educational aides were in the classrooms for the schools. That number was up from at least 75 Monday, and by the end of the week, Perkins could have a full slate of about 130 substitute teachers in its schools, Buccieri said.

As of yesterday, two teachers had crossed the line and returned to work at Briar Middle School and the high school, Buccieri said. She did not give a reason why they crossed the picket lines.

''We don't ask,'' Buccieri said. ''That's a personal decision and I respect their privacy.''

Before heading out for the picket lines, members of the Perkins Education Association voted unanimously for a vote of no confidence in Buccieri's ''ability to effectively lead the school district,'' according to a union statement.

''During the last several contract negotiations the PEA and the BOE were able to come to terms which benefited Perkins students, employees and the entire Perkins community,'' the PEA statement said. ''With Sherri Buccieri as the superintendent in Perkins chaos has been the order of the day. Our students and our community deserve better. Take back Perkins schools!''

At the schools, teachers also distributed handouts with ''Latest reports from parents and students entering Perkins Schools.''

Among the reports: ''Chaos and confusion,'' the flyer read. ''Up to 100 students in one room. Lack of communication to parents coming to school. Students assigned to rooms without desks or chairs. Students watching TV, some napping, some throwing spitballs.''

As for the lockdown, PEA Action Team spokesman Bob Myer deferred comment to the administration and board of education.

However, he questioned whether substitute teachers would be as familiar with school protocols as the PEA members.

''Are they trained on how to handle our crisis procedures?'' Myer said. ''That would be my concern, because what if it was a real crisis?''

About 6:36 p.m., the board of education and Buccieri sent out a statement vowing to continue the strike operations despite the dismissal of eight private security guards with ''unacceptable background checks.'' The announcement did not specify details about the guards' identities or why the background checks were unacceptable.

Perkins schools will keep 10 guards provided by Huffmaster and who have acceptable checks, for protection of school grounds at night and for transporting substitute teachers.

Perkins police, who already are providing daytime security, also will provide background checks on future guards employed by the schools through Huffmaster.

Buccieri emphasized she and the board hope to settle the strike as soon as possible.

Several students agreed.

''I think it's going to be really short or really long,'' said Katie Collins, a sophomore. ''I hope it's short.''

She stood outside after school with friends and fellow sophomores Natalie Sabo and Jill Bahnsen. The group said they would like to be on the picket lines with teachers but were attending school to participate in volleyball and cheerleading.

''If we didn't have sports, we'd be out here for sure,'' Sabo said.

''I just think the board and the teachers should agree on something,'' Bahnsen said. ''It can't be that hard to negotiate.''
I guess rather this is a mess or not depends on one's perspective.

Sadly, it'll be the students who pay the price because the grown-ups can't seem to act like adults
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