Emotions run high at small rally to open schools


Around 15 people bring heartfelt messages to office of teachers’ union

Melanie Gabriel held a sign, and she used her voice Tuesday afternoon at a rally outside of the office of Washington Education Association-Riverside.

An eighth grader at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Vancouver, Gabriel was one of more than a dozen people who just wanted to be heard. They had a message for the teachers’ union.

They want schools to reopen now.

They need schools to reopen now.

A small rally was organized outside a union office of the Washington Education Association-Riverside on Tuesday as parents and students demand that schools “figure it out” and reopen. Photo by Mike Schultz
A small rally was organized outside a union office of the Washington Education Association-Riverside on Tuesday as parents and students demand that schools “figure it out” and reopen. Photo by Mike Schultz

“I’m here to rally to open schools,” Gabriel said. “Keeping them closed has had a huge impact on the mental health of the youth.”

Gabriel said she moved to Vancouver from Oregon just as the pandemic had started. With no school, there has been no interaction with others her age.

“Not good at all,” she said. “I have absolutely no friends. The isolation … it’s been really hard.”

“She’s been fighting to get back since August,” said Melanie’s mom, Megan Gabriel.

Heather Wendling showed up to the rally to support students who are struggling with mental health issues. Her daughter, London Bruns, 13, committed suicide in September. Photo by Mike Schultz
Heather Wendling showed up to the rally to support students who are struggling with mental health issues. Her daughter, London Bruns, 13, committed suicide in September. Photo by Mike Schultz

Heather Wendling made it to the rally, too. She was there for Melanie, and she was there in the memory of her daughter London Bruns. 

“My daugther London committed suicide Sept. 21st. She was 13 years old, same age as Melanie, who has been struggling with her mental health,” Wendling said. “So I’m out here to support her and to try to get kids back in school because kids are literally dying to go to school right now.”

A volleyball player, London had sports taken away from her, plus she was dealing with a medical issue that changed her diet. Not being able to go to school “broke the camel’s back,” her mother said.

“I think she was like, ‘What’s the point?’”

At one point, the rally moved from in front of the union office to a corner on Fourth Plain Boulevard in order to get more people to see the message. Photo by Mike Schultz
At one point, the rally moved from in front of the union office to a corner on Fourth Plain Boulevard in order to get more people to see the message. Photo by Mike Schultz

In the last few months, Wendling has posted links on a social media page, directing friends and family to articles regarding the mental health crisis among the youth during the pandemic.

It was not a coincidence that the rally was held on Tuesday.

Hayden Hastings held a sign that read:

“Eat. Sleep. Zoom. Repeat. Every day is Groundhog’s Day for students.”

It is a reference to the old Bill Murray movie, with his character re-living the same day every day.

Other signs told the union to “Figure it out” and to “Take us off mute.”

Another sign at the rally to open schools Tuesday. Photo by Mike Schultz
Another sign at the rally to open schools Tuesday. Photo by Mike Schultz

One sign stated that most teachers want to be back for in-person school, which led to the question, just who is the union representing?

The rally moved from in front of the union’s office, up the block to Fourth Plain Boulevard, so the protesters could get their message out to a larger volume of people in passing cars. 

During this quiet time at the office, a reporter tried to seek comment from representatives of the union. The doors were locked, and no one answered knocks on the door. It was unclear if anyone with the union was in the office during the rally.

This sign suggests the union should be representing the teachers who want to return to in-building school. Photo by Mike Schultz
This sign suggests the union should be representing the teachers who want to return to in-building school. Photo by Mike Schultz

The rally was put on by Open Schools USA. That organization does not accept that this is “just one year” that students are losing.

“It’s one year of learning, one year of maturing and growth,” a press release noted, adding that for a kindergarten student, it is one-fifth of the life of that student. 

Or, it’s one prom. One championship for the athlete.

“It’s not just one year; it’s their life,” the campaign says.

“With the increasing number of children suicides and mental health concerns, children should be put at the forefront of everyone’s minds, especially those who have been historically known as advocates for children, the schools, and more importantly, the teachers,” according to the release.

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About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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