On Friday, Governor Brown came to Sitton Elementary to announce that, ready or not, she is ordering school buildings to open for in-person instruction, giving educators and district leaders only ten working days to reopen buildings in the state’s largest school district. It goes without saying, that made an already complicated situation monumentally more difficult to navigate.
We have been working for months to come to agreement on plans for opening our schools to in-person opportunities for our students, and we continue to insist that they are centered around our core priorities of safety, stability, and equity for our students.
As we navigate another mandate in this already chaotic year, we are holding tight to what we know we need for a safe and equitable spring:
- Remote options for students, families, and educators who need it.
- A comprehensive safety program (including PPE, ventilation, testing and tracing, social distancing, and building-level joint safety committees empowered to close out-of-compliance classrooms).
- Equitable instruction, in-person and online, centered on what students need.
- Enough time to prepare our classrooms and plan our lessons.
A Full Court Press at the Bargaining Table
The Governor and the school district have made it clear that we are moving forward with hybrid learning this spring, ready or not. Your PAT Bargaining Team has been working tirelessly in the last week, as they have been all year, to steer the plans for the rest of this year in the best possible direction, toward a safe and equitable plan.
This week, including today, our team is working in small groups with members of the PPS team, toward the goal of coming to agreement on all our outstanding issues. We will have an update at tonight’s RA for your building reps, and plan to hold an All-Member Bargaining Update webinar on Friday evening-- look for a link tomorrow to register.
The PAT Path Forward
We know we can not return to “normal” this spring. That is why over the last two weeks, we asked PAT members at every school to engage in conversations about spring instruction. These happened after the workday, on a volunteer basis, facilitated by PAT member leaders at each site.
We asked educators to talk about 4 questions:
- What is working in CDL that should not be disrupted?
- What are your students' greatest needs that are not being met in CDL?
- What would meet those needs?
- What is your vision for how spring instruction could be designed to safely meet those needs?
PAT leaders held over 83 building conversations in 79 schools, involving over 1,500 members. Facilitators recorded notes on commonalities. We also created an individual feedback form to gather quantitative data, which produced almost 1,400 responses.
We heard from the majority of our K-5, K-8, Middle, and High Schools, and analyzed the data to look for differences. But what we found was a huge amount of agreement across grade levels.
Overwhelmingly, at every grade level, educators identified the same need that parents identified in the recent PPS survey— students need opportunities for social interaction.
Our educators submitted so many creative suggestions about how we can provide this: small social groups, clubs, affinity groups, art, hands-on educational activities and extensions. There was much consensus that outdoor activities-- which could include music, dance, gardening, and movement-- could meet students’ needs for socialization without sacrificing safety.
We also found striking similarities across all grade levels PK-12 in our vision for the best path forward this spring. Educators want robust CDL options maintained for core subjects into spring, with in-person opportunities that focus on the social/emotional health of students, peer interaction, physical movement, and student engagement.
Educators also noted many things that are going well in CDL. Of course, remote learning is the safest way to prevent transmission of COVID-19. A year into distance learning, educators, students, and families have developed routines and structure, and many educators have found ways to provide small-group instruction that targets students' needs and interests.
We know that many students and families, for a variety of good reasons, have chosen to remain in CDL. These are frequently our most vulnerable students. We must prioritize stability for students who choose to continue learning remotely, and not disrupt what’s currently working.
Kids Deserve More Than “Back to Normal”
No matter what happens this spring, we know what we believe in. This pandemic continues to demonstrate what a critical institution public schools are for our communities, and just how central schools are to the social and emotional well-being of our students.
The problems that are front page news today are not new. We’ve been talking about these issues for decades. We know that our goal is not to get back to “normal” this spring, or in the fall, because Oregon public schools haven’t been meeting our students’ needs for decades.
It would be a tragically missed opportunity if, in the disruption caused by the pandemic, we fail to utilize this pause in what is “normal” to refocus on what we know is most important-- nurturing our children, honoring who are and all they bring, and supporting them in achieving what they believe in and strive for.
The COVID crisis demonstrated that there IS money available to do all sorts of things that were unimaginable a year ago. It’s time to muster the political will to put our students at the top of list, and truly create the schools our students deserve.