Teachers sound the alarm in walkout in Arlington, Stanwood, Lakewood

ARLINGTON — Hundreds of red-clad teachers, parents and students waved signs and cheered for each other during a rally at Legion Memorial Park to protest state education policies and funding decisions.

Teachers unions in the Arlington, Lakewood and Stanwood-Camano school districts held a one-day walkout Wednesday to call on the Legislature to pay for smaller class sizes at all grade levels, provide raises and better benefits for teachers, and reject a bill that would link teacher performance reviews with their students’ scores on state tests. The local unions are part of the statewide Washington Education Association.

About 700 teachers participated in marches and rallies throughout the day, said Rich Wood, spokesman for the Washington Education Association.

School was canceled for about 7,000 students in the Lakewood and Stanwood-Camano districts. Wednesday was a previously scheduled half-day in Arlington, so morning classes were normal and teachers protested in the afternoon.

“We would much rather be in the classroom today, and yet we have to stop our job to get the Legislature to do their job,” said Todd McLaughlin, vice president of the Arlington Education Association.

People held red-and-white signs in the air and clapped for teachers as they spoke about the need for smaller classes and less standardized testing.

“On Strike,” read one sign. “Educators care for kids every day. It’s time the Legislature cared.”

Other signs said “Class size matters” and “Fund education.” One homemade cardboard sign simply said “McCleary???” and another handcrafted creation, in green and blue, read “12th kids matter.”

A chorus of teachers sang to the familiar tune of “This Land is Your Land,” modifying the lyrics into “These schools are our schools.”

Teachers weren’t the only protesters. Parker Gliessman and Hannah Jensen, both 16-year-old students at Arlington High School, joined the crowd at the park.

Jensen’s mom is a teacher, and mother and daughter agree that classes are too big to let students get the one-on-one attention many of them need. It’s easy to fall behind when there are so many students in the same class, Jensen said.

Gliessman worried about standardized tests. They add a lot of unnecessary pressure for teachers and students, he said.

“They just pin these numbers on us like it’s going to determine the rest of our lives how we do on these tests,” he said.

“They think it can determine our intelligence,” Jensen added. “It can’t.”

Retired teacher Leslie Faxon and fourth grade instructor Shannon Oquist worry that increased class sizes will lead to unprecedented drop-out rates. Students who don’t get the help they need have little or no reason to come to school, Oquist said, especially if they’re forced to give up elective classes like music and art in order to make up for science, math or English classes they failed on their first try.

“It’s like people have forgotten that we’re more than academics,” Faxon said. “We’re all different. We have different skills and different tastes.”

The Arlington rally had a good turnout, Wood said. As the event finished, protesters were asked to return any of the glossy red-and-white signs they’d borrowed. They’ll be needed in Bellingham for another rally on Friday, Wood said, and in Olympia on Saturday, when hundreds more teachers plan to gather on the steps of the Capitol Building.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439, kbray@heraldnet.com

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