President's Message: Taking Action and Making Change

Over the past two months I’ve been so inspired by our colleagues around the country, taking action to defend our profession and fight for the funding all public schools deserve.

Teachers in West Virginia struck for nine days in February, winning a five percent raise for all state employees, and millions in additional school funding. Oklahoma teachers followed suit, boosting teacher pay by $6,000 and restoring millions to the education budget after striking for a week and a half. And Kentucky teachers shut down schools across the state two different times after conservative lawmakers tried to sneak through a bill that would gut their pensions.

This week, teachers in Arizona and Colorado are walking out to protest inadequate funding, and this movement keeps growing.

Closer to home, PPS students were equally inspiring when they stood together last Friday, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, to demand that our elected leaders take meaningful action to stop the violence that is tearing apart our schools and our communities.

I am so proud of our students for knowing when it’s time to stand up and speak out. Students from across our District exercised their right to demand safe schools now. They did so peacefully and safely, and I’d expect nothing less.

Our students know that this problem can be solved. America is the only country where mass-shootings are commonplace. Indeed, since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School less than two months ago, four more schools have experienced gun violence, and at least seven more people have died. And since the shooting at Columbine nearly 19 years ago, 216 school shootings have taken place.

Mass murder in our schools is not a predetermined outcome that we must be prepared for — it is a consequence of decisions made by our elected leaders. This is why we need legislation that addresses the root causes of violence, including the use of deadly force by police in communities of color, and keeps weapons of war out of our neighborhoods.

Arming teachers and fortifying our schools is not the answer. Instead, we need comprehensive gun reform that includes programs that we know will have an effect, like banning assault weapons. We need universal background checks to keep dangerous people from having easy access to dangerous weapons. And, we need to make sure that troubled individuals get the help they need before they terrorize a school, movie theater, or community street.

Like our colleagues across the country, Portland students understand that sometimes direct action is the only thing that can spur lawmakers to do something, and I’m so proud to see our students leading the way.

This weekend educators from around the state will gather at the Oregon Education Association Representative Assembly, and I look forward to discussing what we can do together to make sure our schools are safe and adequately funded.

It’s past time for our elected leaders to respond.

In Solidarity,

Suzanne Cohen 
PAT President