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Garfield High Students Walk Out, Protest Teacher Cuts

Ann Dornfeld
To the beat of the school drumline, Garfield High School students poured out of school at 1:50 to protest a teacher cut that could affect an estimated 150 students.

Hundreds of students at Garfield High School in Seattle walked out of class Thursday to protest district cuts that could cost the school a teacher.
Five schools citywide stand to lose full-time teachers midway through the quarter. A sixth school would lose a partial teaching position. District officials said it’s routine to move teachers once the school year is underway from schools that turn out to have fewer students than expected to schools with too many students.

At Garfield, staff questioned whether the district has its enrollment numbers right, and whether moving a teacher from the school mid-quarter was fair.

The school drumline provided a soundtrack as students amassed on the school stairs at 1:50 pm to represent the 150 students who could lose a class if a teacher is cut from the school. Students held signs reading "Which 150?" and "Don’t Steal Our Teachers."

Garfield senior Moshea Cox stood unflinching in a sudden rainstorm. "I feel like it’s unfair. You can’t just leave 150 students without a credit for a whole class, you know?"

By contract, the teachers selected to move typically have the least seniority. Cox says that worries him, because his AP Government teacher has only been working at the school for one year. "And I just switched to this school from Renton, so if I drop that class I won’t be able to graduate, because I don’t have the requirement for it," he said.

District officals said they didn't know whether the proposed cut could endanger any students’ on-time graduation. Garfield is the only high school facing the loss of a teacher.

Earlier this school year, the PTA at Gatewood Elementary School in West Seattle raised $90,000 to keep a teacher from being moved from their school. Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Stacy Howard said that’s also an option at the half-dozen schools facing staffing cuts.

"Raising funds for a teacher can be an anomaly. And in this case we don’t recommend it," Howard said. "We recommend it as a very final resort when there’s nothing left. Because they shouldn’t have to raise money for a teacher."

Garfield PTSA Co-President Kirk Wohlers, who joined the protest, called it "out of line" for the district to suggest that the PTSA might fund a needed teaching position. He said it wouldn't be possible, either, given the PTSA's tight budget.

Howard said the district has gotten conflicting enrollment numbers from Garfield and is now reviewing the data before deciding whether to move a teacher.

But she said at the other schools facing teacher cuts, principals have until the end of the week to decide which teacher will go.

Year started with KUOW: 2008