For those of you who don't yet know me, I'm Elizabeth Thiel, your newly elected PAT President. I'm a High School English Teacher, most recently, at Madison High School. I've been working PPS for 17 years, and for the past four years I've been serving as PAT Vice President. I'm excited to be working with all our newly elected officers, board members, and committee chairs to guide our union through these unprecedented times.
Typically July is the month that many educators take a moment to breathe and regroup, before we recommit ourselves to the work of nurturing the students who will fill our classrooms in the fall. This year, our summer is filled with uncertainty and the urgent work of re-imagining our schools and classrooms.
As educators, of course there is nothing we want more than to be face to-face with our students, where we can really connect and help them learn and grow. Distance learning has been an enormous stress on educators, students, and families, and it is certainly not the model we would choose, if being live in classrooms were not a threat to public health.
Like every school district in Oregon and across the country, PPS is scrambling to make plans for the fall, while new information and guidance keep rolling in. In June, ODE released two iterations of its guidelines for reopening schools. Since then, infection rates in Oregon have continued to rise, including among children under 10. Even as plans are being made, the conditions in our city and state continue to change.
There are several things we know for sure. First, There is neither a vaccine nor a treatment for COVID-19. Second, while students may be at relatively low risk, the adults they depend on are vulnerable to this debilitating and sometimes lethal disease. Whatever plan PPS makes, it must prioritize the safety of our educators, students, and families while centering equity and balancing our students social and emotional needs with their academic ones."
If educators, students, and families cannot be reasonably assured that any plans for re-opening schools will prevent the spread of COVID-19, reopening is the wrong choice. Despite the pressure and the desire to get back to normal, we cannot sacrifice the safety of educators, students, and families by accepting re-opening plans that leave us all at risk.
When things are moving this fast and unpredictably, teacher voices are essential for any re-opening plan to be successful.
Our PAT Bargaining Team is working throughout the summer to reach an MOU around our working conditions in the fall. Your input on the recent bargaining survey is crucial in identifying our collective priorities, and defining for the District what educators consider safe working conditions. You will hear more from our Bargaining Team shortly about the results from our survey, and the implications in negotiating our MOU.
At the same time, there are about 25 teachers serving as PAT representatives on the District’s 4 Re-Entry Planning committees, which began meeting last week. Along with these classroom educators, I am also attending as many of the planning meetings as I can, to make sure an on-the-ground perspective is central to every discussion and decision.
We are working with the District to offer a townhall for PAT educators to give feedback on the District’s draft plan for re-opening, once it is ready to share. Expect to hear more about that by mid-July.
In the meantime, I know you have so much insight to offer about how to make schools work in a distance-learning or hybrid model. You can always share your ideas with me via e-mail, but I have created this form to collect your ideas and concerns so I can more easily consolidate them and share with PPS and with our bargaining. Please take a minute to share anything you would like.
Classroom educators know better than anyone what worked and what didn't this Spring as we experimented with distance learning in PPS.. For any plan to be successful, educator voices must be central to decision making.
Standing up for Black LIves and Reimagining Community Safety
Like millions of people around the country, PAT members have been outraged over the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police. We’ve also been inspired by the unprecedented movement to end the nationwide pattern of police violence against Black people.
In Portland, people have been demonstrating for 40 days straight to demand police reform and a broader reevaluation of public safety. This movement has had real results. In June the Portland City Council voted to end the School Resource Officer program and other special forces, and to reallocate $15 million toward support services. At the state level, the Oregon Legislature passed six criminal justice reform bills championed by the People of Color Caucus.
In both the city and the state, leaders acknowledge that these changes are just a start in addressing the pattern of anti-Black police violence, and the disproportionate use of public funds for police and prisons, rather than social services and economic justice.
This week past, despite a temporary ban from the Federal courts, the police continue to use tear gas to break up peaceful demonstrations, causing harm to demonstrators, on-lookers, and even unsuspecting community members in their homes and cars.
Across the country, there is unprecedented support for reimagining what makes our communities safe and what is the proper role for police. I urge everyone to educate themselves on the many proposals for reform, restructuring, and re-allocation of funds, especially if you are newer to the conversation. Here are a few upcoming opportunities:
Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing Townhall, Thursday, July 9, 2020, 5:00 – 7:00pm. Jobs with Justice forum: "Should Police Be Abolished - Labor Weighs In" Tuesday July 14, 2020, 6:30 – 8:00pm.
Other Things to Know:
The Executive Board will be working this summer to create SocialDistancing Standing Rules for the RA, so there is a democratic process for elected reps to conduct PAT business via virtual meetings. It looks like it will be some time before we are able to meet live as a group of 100 + in the PAT basement. Our Bargaining Team will be communicating with you soon about the bargaining survey results and our priorities in negotiating our working conditions in the fall. Our staff are working throughout the summer, save for staggered breaks. If you don’t know which consultant to contact, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org, include what school you work at, and our Associate Staff will put you in touch with the right UniServ Consultant.
Our Fall Membership Meeting will be held the last Monday before you report to school, Monday, August 24th. More information will be sent to Reps later this summer