President's Message, April 28, 2021

April has been another emotional month for educators. We started by preparing classroom spaces and material for this new phase in pandemic teaching. And once again, educators have demonstrated immeasurable creativity and care to meet the needs of both our students entering our physical classrooms, and those who continue to learn remotely.

It has filled my heart to see the joy of PAT members finally getting to meet students in-person. And despite the stress of once again redesigning our practice for hybrid learning, many educators are finding satisfaction in finally having class sizes small enough to interact with each and every student in the room. It is a reminder of what we have always known—that individual attention makes an enormous difference for our students, and that we need to continue working toward our vision of a public school system where students get their needs met by design.

I am also thrilled to report that this week our SEIU 503 colleagues—school custodians and nutrition service workers—finally came to a tentative agreement on their contract, including receiving the hazard pay and additional staffing that they have been asking for. SEIU leaders send their gratitude to PAT and all the PPS unions for coming together in solidarity to support our colleagues’ demands for respect and safety. 

Unfortunately, over the course of the month, COVID cases in Oregon have been steadily rising. Since spring break, Multnomah country has gone from “moderate” to “extremely high” risk, and case counts have doubled. 

Many people have been asking if the District will suspend hybrid learning and move exclusively to CDL if cases continue to rise. According to Governor Brown’s executive order, school districts MUST continue to offer in-person instruction at all schools unless case counts surpass 350 cases per 100 thousand residents over a 2-week period. As of Monday, April 26, Multnomah county was at 221 cases.  

In this environment, it is crucial that we hold the District accountable for following all of our safety agreements, and that we follow them ourselves. Please be vigilant in modeling all safety protocols and reinforcing them with your students, including wearing masks correctly, and maintaining physical distance. Please also make sure to use the safety checklist daily.

As part of her push to reopen in-person instruction, the Governor has tied state funding to being open for hybrid or full in-person instruction this spring. As long as COVID is spreading in the community, we know there will inevitably be positive cases in our schools. That is why our safety language is so critical-- it is designed to prevent the spread of COVID within our classrooms and schools. 

PAT is checking in with reps from every school with a positive case to make sure protocols continue to be followed when there is a positive case at school. So far, we have not heard of any COVID cases where transmission occurred at school, but we continue to monitor the situation closely.

We also continue to advocate for transparency in reporting positive cases in schools. At the April 14 school board meeting, PPS Chief of Systems Performance, Dr. Russell Brown reported that the District was in the process of creating a dashboard to share such information with the public. We have been following up, and were last told that the dashboard was expected to launch this week.

We have also been advocating to get vaccine sites set up at schools, starting with high schools in our most impacted communities. Now that our students 16 and older are eligible to be vaccinated, we have an opportunity--and a moral imperative--to close the vaccine-access gap as quickly as possible, and protect our students and their families. Over the past several weeks, I have met with numerous state and county officials and agencies, as well as PPS leaders, to advocate for the urgency of getting these vaccine sites set up quickly, and we will continue to press the Governor’s office and area lawmakers.

I continue to be inspired by everything that you do to support our students, and what we’ve been able to do together as a union.

In Solidarity, 

Elizabeth Thiel

PAT President