On the eve of the first day of school for our students, we are writing to give you the latest update on our safety agreements for this fall. First, I want to acknowledge the enormous challenge that educators are all facing as we are tasked with doing the impossible -- to open our schools safely, at full capacity, during the height of a global pandemic.
As you know, PAT has been working throughout August to secure additional safety measures for the start of the school year. While PPS hoped to start the year without any safety agreements besides those contained in our regular contract, this was a non-starter for PAT. On August 6, we informed the District that our Spring 2021 Safety Letter of Agreement (LOA) would remain in effect unless they met with us to update it, and the District agreed.
Our aim has been to maintain the strong safety and mitigation measures we fought for and won last spring, to update the agreement to comply with current state mandates, and to implement new recommendations from ODE and the CDC.
The process was not as quick as we hoped, but your PAT bargaining team has been working throughout the last 3 weeks to secure updated language and keep our classrooms safe.
Tonight, around 9 pm, we reached a tentative safety agreement for the school year.
While there is no agreement that can alleviate the stress, chaos, and uncertainty of opening schools in-person during the worst moment of the pandemic in Oregon, we believe that we were able to secure safety terms that make in-person instruction possible under these admittedly difficult conditions.
Many of you have been writing to the School Board and District leaders to amplify our demands for specific mitigations for any classroom that is not able to maintain 3 feet of distance, ensuring that the District accommodate all students who signed up for the Online Learning Academy, and creating remote positions for educators who are medically unable to be vaccinated. Your advocacy and organizing made a huge difference.
The Tentative Updated LOA maintains much of what we fought for in the spring including:
- HEPA filters in every space where educators meet with students
- Masking for all students and educators unless there is a documented exemption
- Remote assignments prioritized for educators who are unable to be vaccinated due to medical condition
- Notifying professional educators and the wider community of any COVID infection in the building
- Safety Committees at every school
- No educator can be directed to teach remotely and in person at the same time
The updated agreement also includes new provisions, some of which have already been put in place:
- Re-opening registration for OLA (with over 20 additional remote educator positions to accommodate students who signed up)
- Educators re-assigned to OLA may return to their original assignment
- Creating new remote positions to assist students who must work remotely.
- Implementing the OHA Covid Asymptomatic Screening testing program
- KN95 masks available to any educator who requests one
Physical Distance requirements have remained a sticking point to the end. We wanted to get a guaranteed minimum of at least 3 feet per student, instead of the ODE recommendation of “3 feet whenever possible.”
Over the last few weeks, it has become clear that because of the size and number of our classrooms, the number of students in some grades and some schools, and the state mandate that physical distancing not preclude full-day in-person instruction for all students, there was not a path to achieving this goal before students returned.
The reality is that not all our classrooms will be able to maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance per student. However, we have insisted on clear mitigation measures and full transparency for educators, students, and parents in every classroom where it is not possible. We have also secured a guarantee that neither medically fragile educators nor students who cannot wear masks will be placed in classrooms with less than 3 feet of physical distance.
For classrooms that do not meet a 3 feet physical distance minimum, the District is required to explore ways to create more usable classroom space, such as by removing furniture or switching rooms. And in cases where this is not possible, the District must notify families and implement enhanced safety requirements such as doubling the number of HEPA purifiers and measuring the air exchanges in affected classrooms.
The District is also required to enter into talks about COVID-related working conditions. We know there are a large number of issues we need to address with the District, including how students in quarantine will be supported.
Although we consider this an update to our already-ratified agreement from the spring, we know these changes are significant. We will bring these new terms to the full membership for a ratification vote. More information, including the actual updated Letter of Agreement and a ratification timeline, will be coming soon.
In the meantime, please proceed as if these agreements are IN PLACE, including making sure your Safety Committee is up and running.
Elizabeth Thiel, PAT President, and the PAT Bargaining Team