Your PAT Bargaining Team met with PPS in bargaining negotiations on Thursday, February 18th (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), and on Monday, February 22nd (Part 1). The primary focus of both sessions was the District’s announced plan to begin a Hybrid instructional model in April this year.
PPS has been involved in a no-holds-barred approach to negotiations regarding moving to Hybrid education since its first announcement. In spite of the District’s claims of “we hope for collaboration,” it is clear that the District was planning on a PAT-capitulation approach. Nonetheless, PAT has forced the District to address two of PAT members’ major concerns, regarding ventilation and cohort size:
1. PAT has been able to move the District to recognize that the ventilation systems in PPS buildings do not provide for educator or student safety during a pandemic. Originally, PPS informed PAT that it was doing a “what the building can accommodate” method of providing for indoor air quality. When your PAT Team pushed back, PPS agreed that it would review the issue. The next PPS negotiations statement was that the District was working to replace all filters and repair dampers to increase outdoor air supply to rooms, and having done so, had met all their regulatory requirements for air quality. Your PAT Team again pushed back showing the District that its second shot at addressing this issue didn’t match reasonable safety guidelines.
Yesterday, PPS informed PAT that it was/is purchasing a HEPA-certified, appropriately sized air purification device for each student-occupied building space. So far, PPS already has 500 filters on hand, and the District is awaiting more than 1,000 more. In addition, there are over 1,000 additional filters that have been ordered and will be in-district prior to the opening of in-person activities. HEPA-certified filtration meets or exceeds MERV 16 filters, and that means that indoor air quality, when combined with distancing, masking, and the other HVAC improvements described by the District, will make for a safe classroom environment.
2. Not only has PPS recognized its responsibility to provide safety with air purification, but yesterday PPS accepted the PAT proposal that student cohorts should be determined not by a “one-size-fits-all” approach, but by safe social distancing standards determined by each room.
The social distancing and air quality victories means that your Team may, for the first time, begin to see a way to move towards a vision of some form of Hybrid instruction becoming a reality. We have always known that members long to work with their students in person, but that many members were rightfully concerned about personal, family, student, and student-family safety. Yesterday’s successes, combined with the improving public health metrics, mean that we may have a way to reach those goals.
We know from our surveys that the vast majority of PAT members are opposed to the “simulcast” model of instruction. Your Team does not plan to propose what model in-person education should take, and we don’t know what model our professional educators believe is best.
At the same time, we know that there are some demands for working conditions that are set in stone, regardless of the Hybrid model:
- We know that educators need significant individual-planning time.
- We know that educators need to have time to function as teachers and not as cleaning crew or IT/Tech support.
- We know that the District must make accommodations for individuals who have personal or family health issues.
- We know that there are significant logistical and practical issues to consider in making a transition to partial in-person teaching.
- Finally, we know that many members have their own children who may not be returning to in-person school and will therefore need supports.
For all these issues, your Bargaining Team will continue to set guardrails to ensure that any model the District selects will address what we need to be able to do our jobs.
We will be reaching out to you in the coming weeks to learn more about your priorities for the spring. Once we have that information, we will present new proposals to the District.
It is through your insight and solidarity that your Team is able to move all of our needs forward. Your Team is grateful for the support expressed to us and we count on that support moving forward. Together we will fight for an educational model that works for students and educators in PPS in spite of COVID-19.
Your PAT Bargaining Team-
Steve Lancaster, Chair
Portland Association of Teachers