SUTHERLIN — The lights in the Sutherlin High School gymnasium dimmed Thursday just as a video began to play. Pictures of local veterans mixed with messages from Sutherlin students.
“Thanks to you, I get to learn.”
“Thanks to you, I can raise animals.”
“Thanks to you, when I turn 18, I can vote.”
The video was part of an assembly to commemorate the fifth annual Veteran Visitation at the school. The event was founded by Sutherlin Middle School counselor Alesha Hunt, who grew up listening to stories from her dad about his service.
“When he returned home, he wasn’t treated very well,” Hunt said. “That broke my heart. I thought it was important that we bring these stories to this generation of kids so they understand those sacrifices and really understand what has taken place for them to have the lives they have today.”
Nearly 35 local veterans attended to share stories with students from both the high and middle school. They gathered at tables that were brimming with pictures, plaques and awards.
Hunt said even though the students only get to visit with two veterans, the stories always seems to stick with them.
“There is always one story that resonates with them and they will forever tell those stories to me,” Hunt said. “Whatever it is, they will make a connection, relate to some story, or maybe it’s a moment for them to go, ‘Oh my gosh, I had no idea.’ For each one of them, it is a little different.”
High school students Nolan Carson, Sydnee Tilley and Grace Matteo have participated every year of the event.
“Being upperclassman, we have had the chance to be going through this all five years and just seeing the advances that the event has had is awesome,” Tilley said. “It’s awesome to see how big it has gotten.”
All three said seeing the interconnection occur in their community was the biggest takeaway.
“Every day we don’t really realize they are among us, every day,” said Carson. “This is just a good opportunity for us to recognize what they have done for us, thank them for that, as well as learn from them and the stories they have to share.”
The three also said that the stories help bring to life what they learn in their classes.
“When you are learning about it in history class, it doesn’t really impact you as much,” Matteo said. “You hear a lot more about the numbers and the facts. But then to actually hear the personal stories and it’s moving. It really adds to what happened and how awful the wars were.”
Phoenix Charter School officials stepped in quickly this week after a group of younger students howling and growling like wolves drew the ire, and some bullying, from their classmates.
Principal Brandy Osborn said a small group of about 10 kids were involved in the incident, which took place at lunchtime. She said she was notified about the incident Tuesday, addressed it immediately, and then a second incident happened Wednesday and was addressed the same day.
“We’re just trying to be very proactive to build the strong relationships with the students, and help them to understand when it’s OK to do certain things and when it’s not,” Osborn said.
Also Wednesday, Phoenix skill builder Dian Humphries and counselor David Forney sent a letter to parents outlining their concerns.
Humphries and Forney wrote that the group of students acting like wolves were being harassed by students who had gone so far as to comment about “killing the furries.”
The bullying behavior against the wolf lovers, they wrote, is “way over the line and has to stop immediately.”
If it continues, disciplinary action will be taken, they said.
Humphries and Forney said no students have mentioned despising wolves.
“(O)ne group enjoys a fascination and passion for wolves and their habitat. They are really cool and a big part of our ecosystem,” the letter said.
It said the students may have a lifelong passion for wolves.
“However, behaving as though they are wolves may be seen by other students as immature or annoying on a high school campus,” it said.
However, Osborn said the conflict wasn’t really about students with an affinity for wolves. The kids were really just playing around during lunch, she said.
“It was just a little game, something like you would see more in your younger years. They were just playing with each other, and another group of students asked them to stop, and they didn’t so it just escalated from there,” Osborn said.
She also said she didn’t think the students in the other group intended to threaten the group that had been howling.
“It really is kids just reacting to something that seems weird to them,” she said.
Osborn said staff members trained in a process called restorative justice will work with the two groups to solve the problem. They will first work with each group individually to help them understand how their behavior impacted others. Then the two groups will be brought together, so they can “become friends when this is all over.”
She said parents have reacted well to the school’s proactive approach.
“A majority of what we’re getting is a lot of thank yous for handling it quickly,” she said.
A truly independent commission should determine where the boundaries of the state legislative and congressional districts should be set after they’re redrawn in 2021, according to the League of Women Voters of Oregon.
A small group of League of Women Voters Umpqua Valley members attended a forum at the Roseburg Public Library Thursday at which they heard Norman Turill, president of the state league, discuss the best way to ensure fairness for all voters when those districts are drawn.
The districts are redrawn every 10 years after the U.S. Census is taken and are based on population. In Oregon, as in most states, the lines are drawn by state legislators.
But Turill said that can lead to unfair results that favor the party in power. In Oregon’s case, that’s the Democrats.
Turill said it’s particularly important now since increases in Oregon’s population could give the party an additional congressional district in 2021, bringing the total to six. He said it’s likely Oregon’s sixth district would center on the rapidly growing city of Bend.
Candalynn Johnson, who lobbies for the league in Salem, explained there are several common ways to draw new district lines unfairly, also known as gerrymandering.
A party in power can draw districts that lump together the minority party’s voters into the fewest possible districts. Or, they can split up all the districts in a way that ensures every individual district contains more members of their own party, she said.
A minority party can even gerrymander districts in a way that gives them the majority in as many districts as possible, giving them a stronger legislative power than justified by the number of voters in their party.
It’s also common for a bipartisan group to draw districts that each contain mostly members of one party, leaving current incumbents in safe districts. That’s the type of redistricting that the Oregon legislature performed in 2011, she said, when it was more evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.
The league plans to introduce a bill in the legislature soon that would take redistricting out of the legislators’ hands altogether. It would create an 11-person independent redistricting commission to draw the districts. Three members would come from the biggest political party in the state, currently the Democrats, and three from the second biggest, currently the Republicans. The other five would not be members of either party.
A panel of judges would narrow down applicants for the redistricting commission to three pools of 20 eligible candidates — Democrats, Republicans and candidates who are not members of either party. Then the Secretary of State would randomly draw from those three pools to pick two Democrats, two Republicans and three who are neither. That makes seven commissioners, who would then choose four more, one from each of the two major parties and two not registered with either. And that group of 11 would then create the new districts.
It’s complicated, but the goal is to take the control away from entrenched political parties and give it back to the voters, Johnson said.
“We want citizens, not politicians, drawing district lines,” she said. “We want to remove those conflicts of interest.”
Johnson said the league’s plan is similar to one used in California, where it increased the number of districts evenly divided enough to make races genuinely competitive.
There are other groups proposing different plans for Oregon’s redistricting process, with one initiative petition and two additional bills expected to be put forward.
“There’s no one way to do it. We think we have a good way,” Turill said.
The League of Women Voters is open to men, and Turill was one of its first male members.
For more information about redistricting and the league’s proposal, visit redistrictingmatters.org.