Students walk out; no PPS action planned


Jamie Bikales

Students fill Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland after walking out of classes Wednesday morning in protest of a school board decision to delay a bond to rebuild their school.

Hundreds of Lincoln students walked out of class Wednesday morning in protest of the PPS school board’s decision to move a planned bond measure to rebuild the school from November to May.

Students left classes at 9 a.m. without opposition from administrators or teachers. More than 1,000 students participated, winding through the streets of downtown Portland and culminating at Benson High School, another school on the proposed bond measure, at noon.

There, Portland Police and school administrators stood at the entrance to prevent Lincoln students from entering. Benson students lined the doors and windows to watch the protest.

Despite the massive turnout, a PPS spokeswoman told FOX 12 News that there are no plans to hold any more meetings before Thursday’s deadline to place items on the November ballot.

While the walkout originally planned to stay on the Lincoln field, students were told they could not remain on PPS property, so they made their way to Pioneer Square. The group remained there for several minutes before moving to City Hall, where their chants of “PPS is a mess” and “Let the people vote” drew out Mayor Charlie Hales’ chief of staff, Tera Pierce, who agreed to pass on the students’ message to the mayor.

While a few students took the opportunity to get out of class and spend the morning downtown, most of the group continued over the Hawthorne Bridge and up S.E. 7th Avenue. Several teachers and administrators, including principal Peyton Chapman, joined them, leaving some classes back at Lincoln without an instructor.

Most classes became “study halls” for the students that remained.

Hundreds of Lincoln students arrived at Benson to find the police stationed at the doors. There, the protest ended, as senior Michael Ioffe, seen as the leader of today’s walkout, told students to return to classes to show PPS that they cared about their education.

A few students continued on to PPS headquarters, the destination that was planned after picking up Benson students. However, most rode the MAX or found rides back to Lincoln or home. By fourth period, the halls of Lincoln were nearly back to normal, though teachers and security staff were loosely enforcing attendance rules.

Throughout the nearly four mile trek, students waved signs and chanted as if it was a pep rally, calling for a reconsideration by the PPS school board, which they say has not listened to polling data and community input. They frequently cited the crumbling condition of their school, yelling “Lead in the water” and “Overcrowded.” Cars honked in support of the protest and only one man in Pioneer Square seemed to offer any opposition, telling students they should be “suspended.”

The staff who accompanied the group would not condone the protest, but said they were impressed by the level of activism and dedication, and that it could be used as a teaching moment for years to come.

The students were followed throughout the city by TV cameras from local television stations, garnering the media attention they desired.

The walkout followed a sit-in at the board meeting Tuesday night, when seniors Ioffe and Riley Wilson refused to leave the podium until board chair Tom Koehler called an emergency hearing to hear more public comment on the delay. Koehler instead called for a vote re-affirm the board’s decision to move the bond to May. That vote passed passed 4-3. Afterwards, students promised a strike, a promise they followed through with on a scale much larger than many imagined.

This is a developing story; check back for more coverage and photo galleries.