Today educators met with District leaders to address two pressing issues—what to do about the sharp rise in safety and behavior issues across PPS and how to best meet the needs of our special education students, who now account for close to 1 out of every 5 students enrolled in PPS.
Unfortunately, after today’s discussion it appears that PPS administrators are more concerned with managing their image than doing what’s best for our students. For example, one administrator expressed concern about the stigma associated with having an intervention space to support students who are struggling, failing to recognize that those students are already receiving interventions in public spaces outside the classroom–in the hallways, in the special education classrooms, at the secretary’s desk, or in administrative offices.
We cannot stand by and let District leaders gaslight our colleagues or the families we serve. The District’s current practices and their bargaining proposal will make schools less safe and widen educational inequalities within PPS. Cynically accusing educators of perpetuating systemic racism will not change that fact.
As educators, we believe that every student deserves a classroom environment where they can learn and thrive, particularly our special education students who face such unique and varied challenges. We will steadfastly oppose any effort by PPS to warehouse our students with a cookie-cutter approach to special education placements.
When student behavior disrupts the learning environment, appropriate, trauma-informed responses are necessary. And we believe our current contract already contains the tools to address these problems, if the District would simply follow our existing agreement. We want to build on this framework by implementing a consistent, fully resourced District-wide approach to student support grounded in restorative justice practices.
Despite today’s response from the District, we will continue to fight for a system that provides the fully resourced and equitably implemented trauma-informed supports necessary to help students remain in school and learning, and to minimize the classroom disruptions that are mushrooming across PPS.
As PAT Bargaining Team Chair Steve Lancaster said in bargaining, “It’s important to recognize the gap between what a classroom educator can be expected to do and what kids need– students need lower class sizes, intervention coaches, and many other resources; contract language changes alone cannot fix all needs of students.”
Students, families, and frontline educators are in the best position to determine the classroom environment that will help our special education students thrive, and we will continue to push the District to create these individualized learning environments.
Not only is it our legal obligation, it’s the only way to create true educational equity in PPS.
Thank you to all the members who showed up to support out bargaining team today, and Julia Fogg and Dr. Vincent Chirimwami for being our expert guests.
PAT Bargaining Team
Steve Lancaster (Chair), Francisca Alvarez, Samara Bockelman, Thea Keith & Charity Powell
Portland Association of Teachers