Students demonstrate frustration over pink slips

In the past few months, many teachers at public high schools in Modesto received pink slips effective the beginning of the 2010-11 academic year. Pink slips are layoff notices, which were issued because of the fiscal crisis affecting Modesto City Schools. Students sought to show their support for these teachers by responding with various types of protests.

At Davis High School, some students chose a regular school day to wear pink, then "ditched" sixth and seventh periods. Instead of going to class, they milled around the quad until school was over. Teachers have said they did not support having students miss school in order to protest the pink slips.

On another occasion current and former high school students from various schools marched downtown to a Modesto City Schools board meeting. There, they voiced their concerns about their teachers receiving pink slips.

On the other hand, Gordon Chan said that "student demonstrations were limited" at Beyer High School, where he teaches English. He said the protests were "a show of support," but he expressed concern about not wanting things to get out of hand. "Teachers always (have) had to ... conserve ... and make do with what we had," he explained.

Janeen Zambo, who teaches history at Enochs High School, said she is "always pleased when I see people stand up for what they believe in." She appreciated the student support and felt that the students marching to the school board meeting were "looking to have their voices heard ... in an appropriate manner."

However, she did not believe the protests would be able to stop all staff cuts.

Pink slips were issued to teachers who had the least amount of seniority and were not based on teacher performance.

"I know you are not supposed to take a pink slip personally," said Davis High School teacher Katie Merenda. However, she said it was hard not to do so when she received one this year.

She believes that students and teachers often develop a family-type relationship, and it "helped me keep my chin up" to hear from students who supported her.

"I was proud that they stood up for their teachers," Merenda said.

She mentioned that she still received an award for Teacher of the Year even though she received a pink slip.

Zambo encourages students to join many teachers who are wearing pink on Fridays to show support for the negotiation process. She also said that students could let their teachers know if they have had a positive impact on them. "I can tell you from personal experience that ... notes that I have received over the years I treasure and go back to them for inspiration during the times I am struggling," said Zambo.

Although the fiscal crisis is severe, Chan concluded that "I do not remember a time when schools really had adequate funding." He believes that "old-fashioned methods of fostering confidence in students by teaching them real skills in reading and writing would be the best gift we teachers can give our students."

Laura Mussman is a junior at Davis High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom journalism program.