Hundreds of students spilled out of Cascade Middle School early Friday morning in Vancouver for a demonstration in support of teacher-librarians, paraeducators and other staff who were informed last week that their jobs may be cut next school year.
Though placed at the busy intersection of Northeast 18th Avenue and 138th Street, Cascade students had no trouble drowning out the noise of east Vancouver’s morning commute.
“Save our staff! Save our staff!” chanted the students, who were gathered behind a fence on the school’s track. Many of the students held signs reading “WE NEED OUR STAFF” and “WE NEED LIBRARIANS.”
A letter sent home to Cascade parents Thursday afternoon said the school was aware of the walkout and reminded the group to not leave school boundaries or interrupt regularly scheduled classes or activities.
Student organizers were primarily concerned about the potential loss of teacher-librarians at secondary schools like Cascade, 11 positions among the 140 full-time equivalent positions that would be eliminated as part of a proposed $19 million budget reduction for the 2023-2024 school year.
Since last week’s announcement, parents, staff and community members have grown increasingly critical regarding the specifics of the cuts, resulting in a four-hour board meeting on Tuesday night that packed the Evergreen district headquarters. Friday’s protest evidenced that students, too, are taking exception to the decisions.
When Gracelynn Werner, a seventh-grader at Cascade, learned of the potential cuts that would include losing her librarian, she felt compelled to do something. But she didn’t expect that “something,” according to her mother, Kim, would gain the support of so many of her fellow students so quickly.
‘We don’t want to lose our librarians and other staff members that are important to our educational experience,” the younger Werner said in an email Wednesday. “So we are fighting the only way we know how.”
As students led chants and passing cars honked in support, Kim Werner beamed with pride.
“I’m always proud of my daughter,” the elder Werner said. “She was very nervous, but after speaking to the principal and letting them know what she wanted to do, I think she felt better about it. I told her she needed to have 10 students with her to get out of class, and she definitely did.”
“Keep our paraprofessionals and librarians, we need them!” and “We dissent! Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be proud,” read a handful of other signs. Around 9:30 a.m. after a half hour or so, students returned en masse to their respective classes.
“This is pretty interesting, I’ve never witnessed school spirit like this,” said Gary Risen, a parent in the district watching the protest. “It’s an amazing thing, seeing the kids stand up.”
Social media opposition gaining traction
The proposed cuts have been criticized on social media with multiple petitions circulating to support librarians, athletic directors, paraeducators and others whose jobs may be lost.
“Eliminating teacher librarians directly impacts students, especially our most vulnerable,” reads a petition shared by nonprofit organization EveryLibrary, which aims to support teacher-librarians across the country. “Teacher librarians actively defend and support our most marginalized students. They cultivate and provide access to books, technology, and experiences that allow these students to be seen, valued, understood, and welcomed in their school community.”
As of Friday afternoon, the petition had generated more than 1,000 emails sent to the Evergreen board of directors in support of keeping the positions.
At the meeting Tuesday night, district superintendent John Boyd said the decisions about what to cut were made through the district’s “equity lens” and an analysis of a ThoughtExchange survey that showed the community prioritized keeping cuts “farthest from the classroom.”
“It’s not going to be easy,” Boyd said.