CROSBY -- For the past two months there has been a line, marked by yellow caution tape and orange temporary plastic fencing, that has kept Crosby-Ironton's 87 striking teachers from entering school district property.
It marked the line that couldn't be crossed, the line drawn between the district and the union, the "regular" teachers and the "replacement" teachers, and the line between "Us" and "Them," depending where you stood.
Old habits die hard.
Even after school district officials tore down those physical reminders of the teachers' strike after a settlement was reached between the union and school district, many teachers found it strange to walk over to the school parking lot before the 3 p.m. joint news conference began Wednesday. Many preferred instead to linger together across the street from district offices near C-I teacher and union negotiator Nicki Jacobs' front yard, the "warming house," they called her home. Jacobs' house provided a refuge from the cold winter weather for teachers manning the picket lines for the past 38 work days they've been on strike.
Crosby-Ironton High School employees and students held a sign out of second-story windows to greet returning teachers Wednesday at the high school.NELS NORQUIST
"I don't know," said union president Stan Nagorski, when asked why teachers weren't joining others in the school parking lot. "They're just afraid to cross the line."
Teachers were out on the picket lines until just before noon Wednesday when they were told to head to union headquarters for a meeting. While all striking teachers were on the picket lines the first day of the strike, a skeleton crew was there on the last day, due to a strange case of suspected food poisoning that affected about 75 percent of the teachers, said union president Stan Nagorski.
Many teachers from other school districts have donated food and money to C-I's striking teachers during the strike to show their solidarity and support. Bloomington teachers provided a roast beef lunch for C-I teachers on Tuesday, which teachers believe caused most of them to become violently ill on their last day of the strike.
Still, Wednesday's settlement was a time for celebration.
"I'm pleased. Very pleased," said C-I teacher Mary Gaviglio. "I'm anxious to be back in school. I'm ready."
Gaviglio said emotions for teachers have been "amazing in their intensity" during the strike. There were many days punctuated by sadness, she said. One teacher said this strike has been the worst experience of her life.
"This is our life and then all of a sudden it's just gone," said Gaviglio, pointing toward C-I High School. "This is our life and when you're not there, it's very, very difficult. It's almost surreal. You wake up in the morning and you want to hope (for a settlement) but you're afraid to hope."
Doug Mayfield, a C-I high school English teacher and chief union negotiator, said enduring the strike together has strengthened the bonds between C-I's teachers.
Michelle Girtz (left), 17, and Melissa Burgstaler, 17, both juniors at Crosby-Ironton High School, hugged junior high science teacher Stan Nagorski as teachers returned to school Wednesday afternoon. Nagorski is the president of the teachers' union.
"A lot of us began this as colleagues and ended this as very close friends," said Mayfield.
"It feels very good," said industrial arts instructor Mike Beseres, on returning to school. "It's about time. For all of us, this is all new territory."
"It will be much like the first day of school," said Jacobs, on today's return to her special education classroom at CRES. "I'm anxious to see my room and see if anything changed. I really miss my students."
At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the doors to C-I high school were held open by Superintendent Linda Lawrie and board members Mary Nelson and Bob Sandin as they welcomed teachers back into the building. Since teachers no longer had keys for the doors, they had to wait for custodians to open their rooms. A large display case in the hallway featured a "Welcome Back" sign with the names of every returning teacher.
"We've been anxiously waiting for this. It's pretty exciting to see them all back," said Jo-Ellen Klingbeil, a teacher's aide, on the return of teachers to the classrooms.
Nagorski was relieved to discover his many plants in his junior high science room survived the strike. The small sunfish in his fish tank, however, was swimming in murky, green slime.
"I've got to get my personality back into the room," said high school math teacher Janice Johnson with a smile as she carried several personal belongings into the building.
Mayfield walked into his classroom and noticed the replacement teacher using his room must have grown tired of his broken clock. The clock, which for several years has remained at 2 o'clock, was still hanging on the wall but another working clock is now found below it.
"Now the students will have something to watch," said Mayfield with a smile. His wife, Sally, joined him on his first day back in his classroom.
"My room looks good. I probably should buy this person a beer for taking good care of things. He left me a Lifesaver," said Mayfield, of the piece of candy left behind on his desk.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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