SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) – Hundreds of Idaho high school students walked out of classes on Monday to protest a plan to lay off public school teachers and curtail their rights to collective bargaining.
About 250 students were asked to leave the Capitol in Boise and take their protest signs and chanting outside to avoid disrupting state workers, police said.
The hours-long Boise rally mirrored walkouts and sit-ins by students in other Idaho cities. The protests were apparently organized by students and posted on social networking sites like Facebook.
“Teachers at our school don’t really have a future under this plan,” Sage Sauerbruy, a junior at Wood River High School in Hailey, Idaho, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Sauerbruy was among scores of students who signed petitions against a plan crafted by Idaho schools chief Tom Luna to overhaul the public education system for kindergarten through high school.
The overhaul is spelled out in several measures working their way through the GOP-controlled Idaho legislature and endorsed by Republican Governor Butch Otter.
The plan restricts collective bargaining by public school teachers to salaries and benefits, removing from negotiations such provisions as class sizes and teacher workload. It also would lay off more than 750 teachers and require students to complete online courses to graduate.
The controversy surrounding the plan comes as efforts are under way by Republicans in Wisconsin and other states to curb teachers’ and other unions.
The Idaho Education Association, which represents more than 12,000 school teachers, is strongly opposed to the plan. The teachers union said in a statement Monday it “had absolutely no involvement in organizing the protests” by students.
Boise High School Principal Ken Anderson said dozens of juniors and seniors from that school attended the protests at the Capitol. He said the education overhaul has been a topic of debate in civics classes.
“The Legislature has put everyone in a difficult situation and I guess the kids want to express their feelings about it,” said Anderson.
Spokesman Jon Hanian said he was unsure Otter knew about the student walkout since he was at a national gathering for governors in Washington, D.C.
A Luna spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.
Captain Steve Richardson, regional commander for Idaho State Police, said he was not aware of a similar protest by students in the past.
“It was unusual,” he said. “I’ve been associated with a number of gatherings at the Capitol and, generally speaking, that’s not the type of gathering you would see.