President's Message: We’re All In This Together

Dear Educator,

PAT members continue to do everything we can to make each day safe, meaningful, and responsive for our students, whether we are serving them in person or virtually. 

In these first weeks of this new year, the omicron variant is once again upending our assumptions and presenting enormous challenges to families, educators, and schools.

Omicron by the Numbers (and the numbers we don’t have)

The omicron variant has brought COVID transmission to new levels in our community and around the world. And, while being fully vaccinated and boosted remains important protection from a severe case of COVID, it no longer makes a person unlikely to test positive or transmit the virus.

This has resulted in enormous disruption in our schools: 

  • In the last 10 days, at least 290 PPS staff have tested positive for COVID-19.
  • An additional 113 have been officially advised to quarantine. 
  • In that same period of time, at least 2,438 students have begun quarantine or isolation. 

*as of 10:00am on 1/12, according to the PPS Dashboard, for January  2 -January  12, 2022. 

We know that these numbers are a huge undercount of the impact of COVID-19 on our schools this month. They do not include:

  • Students or staff who are staying home with symptoms, as is required by OHA and CDC guidelines, as they wait as long as a week to access a COVID test.
  • The staff who must stay home with young children who are in isolation or quarantine. 
  • Students who used at-home test kits and whose cases are therefore uncounted.
  • The many students whose families are choosing to keep them home from school during the surge as a precaution.

We have been calling attention to the dangerously low staffing levels in our District since the fall, and Omicron has only made the problem worse. 

According to PPS data, every day last week PPS had between 175 and 282 unfilled absences in classrooms. 

The unwelcome fact is that with so many educators, administrators, custodians, bus drivers, and support staff out for any of these COVID-related reasons, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain even the minimum staffing levels to run our schools safely. 

We all want to be in-person safely with students. While PPS has not partnered with us in determining how to respond to these extreme staffing shortages, we know that we can not ask parents to send their students into schools if we can not guarantee a minimum level of staffing to run schools safely. 

Setting Priorities Together

Throughout this unprecedented school year, our union has tackled so many urgent issues. We fought for a renewed COVID-19 safety agreement for in-person instruction, and brought national attention to the urgent workload concerns in PPS with our Time to Get it Right campaign. 

In addition to these Omicron-induced staffing shortages, we are still facing an increasingly untenable workload, the need to enforce our COVID-Safety agreement from the fall, and the opportunity to secure lasting improvement to our teaching and student learning conditions as we bargain a new contract with the District. 

With so much going on, including new COVID-19 uncertainties, it is crucial that we invest our energy and organize around solutions that unify us. 

Thank you for answering our recent survey. We will be sharing initial results with the PAT Representative Assembly tonight, and will use this information to focus our collective power on what is most important to our 4,000 members. 

Whatever we do, we must do it together. There are no easy answers to the challenges we are facing, which is why it is more important than ever that we listen to all our colleagues, and organize for solutions that bring us together. If we are strategic, and stick together, what we do over the next six months will undoubtedly bring us closer to our long-term vision for the Schools Portland Students Deserve.

In Solidarity,

Elizabeth Thiel

PAT President