Working For a Safe and Supportive Learning Environment

As we enter the final weeks of 2015, I hope everyone will be able to take full advantage of our break to reflect and recharge. The first part of this school year has been difficult for many PAT members, particularly when it comes to safety and discipline. In my 20 years in PPS, I’ve never heard so many disturbing stories, or seen so many great educators feeling beaten down.

A common thread in so many cases is the District’s special education redesign. While we support individual students being placed in the least restrictive environment, this does not mean full inclusion with no real pla

n to provide the classroom supports students need. In many cases, the results have been heartbreaking—an epidemic of discipline problems, with students and educators routinely in harm’s way.

Last month, we held interim bargaining with the District for four days over trust, and how to address safety and discipline issues. The District is finally acknowledging there are serious problems in many of our schools.  We will be meeting again in January to resolve some of the most urgent issues.

As a union, PAT will keep advocating until every student in the District has a safe and supportive learning environment, which is part of our vision for the Schools Portland Students Deserve. In the short term, be on the lookout for another safety survey from the PAT Advocacy committee, and be sure and participate in this year’s TELL survey. Documenting what is happening in our schools is a key part of changing things, and the data we’ve already collected is a big part of how we’ve made headway with the District. We will use this data to advocate for solutions to the most acute issues at our Interest-Based Bargaining session in January.

We also need longer-term solutions, which is why the Better Oregon campaign is so important. We can’t wave a magic wand and solve these problems, we need resources and support. Think of what a difference 33 percent more money in our public schools will make in the lives of your students.

That’s why I’m asking you to hang in there with me, and with each other.  I really do see light at the end of the tunnel. Have a safe and happy winter break.

In Solidarity,

Gwen Sullivan