Summer vacation starting in May. A four-day school week. An extra week of spring break. Do these sound like the dreams of bored students?
All of the above are changes the Portland School Board raised as possibilities for addressing Portland Public Schools' (PPS) budget shortfall. But instead of celebrating, students at Franklin High School reacted with anger to the compromising of their education and staged walkouts at Franklin, Wilson High School, Metropolitan Learning Center, and Lincoln High School on December 19, 2002.
The organizing effort began at Franklin, where the Student Union sought ways of channeling the wide-spread wrath among the student body. As one of the people involved in planning the walkout, I liked the idea of a walkout to counter the trend I had seen develop during last year's "Save Our School" rally.
The cornerstones for that campaign were an after-school districtwide rally downtown in Pioneer Courthouse Square, and a lobbying effort in Salem, the state capital. Both events received media coverage, but involved only a small percentage of the student population. It was an elitist vision of organizing that was largely based on well-spoken students in suits doing the lobbying. Not coincidentally, Lincoln, the high school with the most economically privileged students, led the effort. Franklin, where most students come from working-class families, had only sparse participation. I had hoped the idea of a walkout would help expand the struggle to every student, particularly those at Franklin.
The challenge was not to help Franklin's students find their voices. Many students were angry about the proposed (and already instituted) budget cuts. But we wanted to provide an outlet for that rage. The concerns of students were as diverse as the student body itself. Some were concerned that cutting at least 15 days off of the school year would make Portland students look less attractive to colleges and prospective employers.