About 300 angry, shouting Eastern High School students walked out on their principal and a school board member at a school assembly yesterday to protest the transfer of 10 popular teachers to other schools. The students charged that such a move would only worsen the educational program at the long-troubled school.
For about an hour, the students, carrying signs that said, "Save Eastern," and "Concerned Students for Equality," marched in front of the school in an unusually unified show of dissatisfaction. It was a particularly unusual demonstration for a school that has been frequently cited in the press for its poor academic performance and discipline problems and for graduating students who have trouble reading.
School officials, senior Jannette Mallard said, "say we're not concerned about our education. But we are."
Many of the teachers to be transferred were teaching in the senior class such subjects as biology, math, history and English which are required of all students for graduation.
Faced with having to change teachers in midsemester, many of the students said that this could only hurt their academic record when they are trying to graduate. They also complained of overcrowded classrooms.
"If they transfer these teachers, man, the classes are going to be crowded. There's already 30 and 40 kids in a class," senior Carlos Murrell said.
School officials say the teachers will be transferred because Eastern has a smaller enrollment this year than projections called for. Under a federal "comparability" law, all schools must receive comparable funds and resources, according to a complex formula that takes into consideration the number of students in a school. So each year, in midsemester, after enrollments stabilize at each school, some teachers end up being shifted.
Most of the 10 Eastern teachers will be transferred to Eastern's rival, Woodson Senior High in Far Northeast. But many of the students complained that Eastern is merely being passed over in favor of Woodson, which enjoys a better reputation.
"That's not so at all," Dr. Andrew F. Jenkins, associate superintendent in charge of several schools in the eastern quadrants of the city, told a reporter. "It's just basically a matter of numbers of students."
John E. Warren, who represents Ward 6 where Eastern is located, explained to the students that Woodson needs the additional teachers because it is overflowing with students. Woodson, he said, has a student population of 2,028 in grades 9 through 12 and many of its students were transfers from other schools. Warren said that Eastern has 1,245 students.
But Warren's explanation of the necessity of the transfers and principal Dennis Jackson's warning that a walkout would bring a 10-day suspension could not defuse the students' anger.
About 8:30 a.m., before school started, student government representatives arrived to make the protest signs and to organize students. Jackson, who declined to comment on the day's events, got many students to stay in the red-brick school building after the first bell by calling an assembly at which he and Warren spoke.
But when the microphone was handed over to the students, one after another insisted that Eastern was being slighted, and some students began yelling, "Walk out! Walk out!"
Soon the doors of the auditorium burst open and students, who were complaining that Warren and Jackson were giving them "the runaround," were out in front of the red and tan brick row houses along East Capitol Street, pleading their cause before television cameras, whose crews they had tipped off to the demonstration that morning.
Pervading the students' comments was the feeling that Eastern is being unfairly treated as the ugly stepsister of D.C. high schools.
"First thing you know, they gonna transfer these teachers to other schools. Next thing, they gonna close this building down. They already saying it's too old now," one student said.
Indeed, Eastern has suffered several setbacks in recent years. Last year, due to budget constraints, Mayor Marion Barry canceled funds for several public works projects, including the modernization of Eastern's school building, where the paint is peeling off, the ceiling plaster is coming down and windows are falling out.
In 1978, the Washington Post chronicled daily life at the school: students lounged in the hallways, smoking marijuana or rolling dice on a staircase. In the classrooms, students could not read and classes had to be conducted on the level of elementary and junior courses elsewhere in the nation.
Violence struck earlier this year when a former student shot another former Eastern student inside the school.
In 1979, Jackson, a "tough guy" figure, himself an Eastern graduate, was sent to upgrade the school and has since acted as a strong disciplinarian who has tried to raise students' self-images and the image of the school.
During the protest, students repeatedly pleaded for the community to support them.
"We are young. We need adult representation. They have taken our best teachers," said an emotional Maxine Jordan, another student government representative. "These were teachers dedicated to teaching. They would say, 'You're not going to leave my class until you get an education.'"