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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Teen protesters chant ‘Kill the bill’

High school students protest outside the Idaho state capitol on Monday against state schools Supt. Tom Luna's school reform plan. (Betsy Russell)
High school students protest outside the Idaho state capitol on Monday against state schools Supt. Tom Luna's school reform plan. (Betsy Russell)

The crowd of high school students protesting the school reform package at the state Capitol today has swelled and moved out onto the capitol steps during the noon hour, where some are holding signs and periodically the group is chanting, "Kill the bill." Meanwhile, in Nampa, 150 students walked out of class this morning and marched to city hall, and walkouts were reported in American Falls, Pocatello, Meridian and Caldwell. Here's a full report from the Idaho Statesman on the protests, and you can click below for a full article from AP reporter John Miller.

Idaho students protest proposed education reform
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — About 150 students at the Idaho Capitol on Monday engaged in a wandering protest of proposed public school reforms, moving from the rotunda to nearby state education offices and back before state police troopers shooed them from the building to a park across the street.

The boisterous students, many from Boise High School, joined others from around southeastern Idaho who skipped class to rail against Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's plans. Those include boosting technology in the classroom, requiring students to take online classes, increasing class sizes, cutting 770 teaching jobs and increasing the minimum pay for teachers.

About 100 students walked out of classes at Meridian High School while more than 150 walked out at Nampa High School. Students were also reported to have walked out of classes in Caldwell and Pocatello. Students heard about the walk-out via social media networks and text messages, though some of the student leaders of the protest weren't confident it would continue beyond Monday.

"We're making a statement," said Tyler Honsinger, a Boise High School senior, inside the Capitol. "It's much more important than missing a day of school. But if we were to be here tomorrow, it would seem like we were missing school for the sake of missing school."

Lawmakers in the Idaho House plan to take up legislation this week that would eliminate tenure for new teachers, restrict collective bargaining and introduce merit pay after the two bills passed the Senate last week. A third bill would boost technology in the classroom and require online courses, while boosting minimum teacher pay.

It is being reworked in the Senate due to lawmaker concerns that it hikes class sizes and cuts 770 teaching jobs.

James Allen, a sophomore from Boise High School, didn't like the idea of being required to take more online courses. He said the physical presence of teachers is needed to keep students motivated. A classmate, Kenny Hall, agreed.

"A computer isn't going to be there saying, 'You did a good job,'" Hall said.

One provision of Luna's plan would give laptop computers to all ninth graders. One student carried a sign that read, "Free laptops only means more porn." Another hoisted a placard that read, "I thought fascism was dead."

A spokeswoman for Luna, Melissa McGrath, didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment about whether the superintendent's schedule was disrupted by the high school kids, who yelled loudly outside his offices.

The debate over his reform plan has been acrimonious; somebody spray painted Luna's truck and slashed its tires at his home in Nampa in mid-February. Luna has said some of opponents of his reforms have engaged in tactics that smack of "union thuggery."

When a small band of students sat on the floor of the rotunda's second floor about 2 p.m., Idaho State Police troopers at the Capitol approached and calmly herded the entire group out the front doors, down the steps and across the street to a small park where there's also a statue of former Idaho Gov. Frank Steunenberg, who was murdered in 1905.

At one point, about eight city of Boise police cars and at least two Idaho State Police cruisers parked on Jefferson Street. Students appeared to react to the law enforcement presence, with their chants growing louder. Some made crude hand gestures toward the Capitol. When police left the scene, the students briefly ran back across the street, smiling and laughing.

"Not enough cops," they shouted. "Not enough cops."

Reps. Cherie Buckner-Webb and Brian Cronin, two Democrats who represent the district where Boise High School is located, eventually came outside and urged the students to be careful — and to behave themselves.

"I just said, 'Engage your heart — and your head,'" Buckner-Webb said. "I said, 'We appreciate your standing up for yourself. But there's a way to do it.'"

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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