Dear PAT Members,
We’ve received an overwhelming number of inquiries about yesterday’s message from the District, accusing educators of misusing sick leave.
Rather than recognizing our extraordinary efforts to support our students in the face of untenable conditions, or acknowledging their own failures to prepare for this latest COVID surge, District leaders are now accusing PAT members of engaging in illegal activity. Their message appears to be an attempt to intimidate anyone organizing to assert their rights under Oregon law and our union contract, following the guidelines of OHA to stay home when they are sick or have symptoms of COVID, or shouldering the responsibility to care for their own family members who are sick or who need to quarantine.
This response demonstrates how out of touch PPS administration is with what’s happening in our schools, and lands as an attempt to blame educators for the District’s own failure to honestly and proactively address the current staffing crisis and public health emergency.
This message from PPS is off-base, demoralizing to all educators, and an insult to our profession.
We are nearly two years into this pandemic, and in the face of the Omicron surge, PPS leaders still have no plan to provide sufficient testing, or maintain the staffing levels needed to follow COVID-19 safety protocols. They have no plan to mitigate the enormous burden that educators are carrying as they show up every day to fill the gap between what our students need and deserve, and the egregious lack of staff and resources that the state and the District are providing.
Educators have gone above and beyond this year, doing everything possible to create a positive and supportive learning environment for students in this year of chaos. Educators continue to grade student work, plan lessons, and communicate with parents while out on sick leave. Educators are substituting in other classrooms during their planning periods, or in addition to their crucial duties as counselors, TOSAs, mentors, social workers, ELL teachers, specialists, and instructional coaches. Educators are taking on the duties of paraeducators, education assistants, and custodians, to keep students and classrooms safe when schools are short critical staff.
Our schools are operating right now only because educators are going above and beyond every single day, and often into the night and over the weekend.
Rest assured, PAT will aggressively push back on any attempt by the District to intimidate or harass educators from using their own sick time to deal with COVID infection or other illness.
We have been raising the red flag all year about dangerously low staffing levels in so many of our schools, and that the shortage would likely get worse if the District refused to address the underlying reason that educators are leaving the profession. The latest COVID surge has pushed a precarious situation over the edge.
With Omicron raging in our community, it is predictable that so many staff and students will need to stay home. In the longer run, we know the staffing shortage will only get better if we address the crushing and impossible workload driving educators out of the profession, and build a culture of respect for the professional educators and staff who work every day to support and inspire students. We will continue to press the District for much-needed workload relief, both for this year, and for the years to come. The future of our profession depends on it.
Elizabeth Thiel, PAT President
Gwen Sullivan, PAT Vice President
Portland Association of Teachers