CROSBY -- While their teachers were walking the picket lines outside Crosby-Ironton High School, C-I juniors and seniors returned to classes Wednesday taught by replacement teachers.
According to dozens of the approximately 177 juniors and seniors who returned to school Wednesday, the classrooms and hallways were "chaotic," with most students walking out of class, talking and text messaging in class on their cell phones with friends in other classrooms and loitering in the hallways. Many students later picked up signs and stood out on the picket lines in support of their striking teachers.
"It was like chaos the whole day," said junior Joey Fournier. "There were kids who knew they had class but went to play basketball in the gym. It felt ridiculous to be in school today. I didn't think there was any order at all."
Replacement teachers left Crosby-Ironton High School Wednesday together to ride a bus to the C-I Transportation bus garage where they parked their vehicles in a fenced-in area. Juniors and seniors returned to school Wednesday, their first day back at school since the C-I teachers' strike began Feb. 9.
"We left after lunch," said senior Tim Bongs, who strolled into strike headquarters Wednesday afternoon with Fournier. "We wanted to come down and see the teachers."
Fournier said about two-thirds of the students in his world history class left class before he eventually headed for the door. He said he's not sure if he was going to return to school Thursday.
Bongs and his classmate, Jennifer Kelley, both said that the replacement teacher they had in their third hour senior social studies class lifted his shirt to show students his tattoo.
"That was really weird," said Bongs.
Kelley said in her senior social studies class they were told to work on a project that the seniors already had accomplished in eighth-grade geography.
"Everybody just left," said Kelley. "We walked right past the principal."
Kelley said her replacement teacher in her morning auto mechanics class told students he wasn't going to be in class Thursday so they could arrive late to school if they wanted.
"He said, 'If you decide to sleep in tomorrow that's OK because I won't even be here,'" said Kelley. "The hardest thing this morning was seeing three security officers and two police cars at our school."
"I was pretty disappointed," said C-I senior Tim Bill. "I mean, it wasn't the administration's fault for not having enough teachers but the teachers weren't good at all. They weren't qualified to teach the classes they had."
Bill said half of his classes are college courses he's able to take at C-I by striking teachers who have master's degrees. He said his replacement teacher in his calculus course told students he has primarily taught seventh-grade math and hasn't had a calculus course in 27 years but would help students as much as he can. Bill said his anthropology teacher said he's a hockey coach and his English teacher is having students work on eighth- and ninth-grade curriculum, studying poetry and creative writing in a novels class where they usually study classic literature. Bill said his replacement teacher in accounting told the class it is now pass/fail.
"She said the only way you can fail is if you make the teacher mad," said Bill, of his accounting replacement teacher. "She said if you don't want to work, we're not going to work."
Bill said he plans to return to school only for choir and will work on calculus by himself by talking to college professors he knows about the subject and doing research on the Internet. He said he was frustrated at not being challenged at school but he felt that students in his classes were respectful of the replacement teachers.
"I'm a little bit mad at both sides," said Bill, of teachers and the school board. "It seems after this long we should have an agreement but I feel the school board has forced the teachers into the situation. I just wish everything would get settled and get back to the way it was."
So does Kristina Langie, also a C-I senior. She said she didn't feel challenged in her courses but she feels she needs to be in school so she can graduate.
"It was emotional because when I got to school in the morning I had to walk past my teachers to get to school," said Langie. "It was hard because I saw my choir director out there and I get the general gist from him that he doesn't want to be out there, but I understand it had to have been done."
Langie said choir is her favorite class at school and she was upset to walk into the choir room and not have choir director Wayne Ellingsen there, but outside on the picket line.
"It was really hard to walk in there because he has so many memories in there and he was not there with us," said Langie. "But I'm a section leader for choir and I can't just fall to pieces. I'm really upset I can't be in school with my teachers but I understand they are doing it for a purpose. They have families they need to take care of, too. I'm sort of supportive for both sides. I'm sort of riding the fence, you could say."
Langie said she saw many students walking out of school or playing basketball in the gym. But she said most students were respectful of the replacement teachers.
"They're really, really nice," said Langie, of the replacement teachers. "They're nice people. I'm proud of our students for being better than the teachers yelling 'Scabs' and stuff and for not acting up because that was one of the main concerns I had. They've been good so far but it's only day one."
Principal Jim Christenson said out of the 91 seniors and 100 juniors who are currently enrolled at C-I high school, 177 students showed up Wednesday morning to pick up their schedules. But he wasn't sure how many students spent the entire day at school. Christenson said there were three classes that couldn't be offered to students because they didn't have teachers qualified to teach them. He said the high school has employed 15 replacement teachers to teach juniors and seniors.
"It was like the first day of school," said Christenson. "It wasn't like what you'd expect on a March 16 school day because teachers were getting to know students."
Christenson said there weren't any disciplinary problems Wednesday at the high school. He said the school is still working on a plan to bring sophomores back to school but there isn't an exact date for when they will be able to return to school.
About 20-30 juniors and seniors joined striking teachers on the picket line on Highway 210 Wednesday afternoon. Many said they refuse to return to school to be taught by replacement teachers.
"We hated it," said junior Michelle Girtz. "We're not going back tomorrow."
"I told one of the subs I support the teachers 100 percent and he yelled at me," added junior Katrina Ferrari. "Seriously, we wanted to cry without our teachers."
"We won't come back until our teachers come back to teach us," said junior Melissa Burgstaler. "We want our real teachers back."
"This is wonderful," said Pam Stock, a secondary special education instructor, of the support from students. "It's been an emotional boost for all of us."
"It's great to have the kids out here," said Randy Swanhorst, the high school girls' basketball coach and physical education and health instructor. Many of the students stopped to give him and other teachers hugs on the picket lines. "That's who we feel worst for is the kids. We're not in there with them where they belong."
While the students held up signs and waved to passing cars after school, they weren't always met with positive responses. One motorist gave the students an obscene hand gesture. Another man, a passenger in a moving vehicle, opened his car door and yelled profanities at students and teachers.
As the school buses stopped at the school to pick up high school students, several buses already had a few elementary students on them. One young girl held up a handmade sign through the bus window that read, "I miss my teachers." Another young student held her Care Bear stuffed animal up against the glass toward the striking teachers.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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