What It Takes to Create Safe and Supportive Schools

Last week, PAT member Chris Riser was in the local and national news after PPS put him on administrative leave following a student-led Black Lives Matter walkout at Ockley Green. PAT continues to fully support Chris, and our union is committed to protecting his right to due process as well as privacy. We were inspired by the outpouring of community support for Chris, which also seems to have had an impact on the District.

The way the District handled this student walkout is unacceptable and damaging, casting blame on a single teacher in a way that is grossly inconsistent with how PPS has handled similar situations and jumping to conclusions without listening to those with first-hand knowledge.

This incident is a great example of why, as a union, we fight for a fair, thorough, and transparent investigation process. A thorough investigation must be based on the facts, not rumor or generalizations, and must seek out multiple perspectives and first-hand accounts. Our school communities should never be forced to rally public support just to get the facts heard.

As they demanded Riser’s reinstatement, the Ockley Green community made it clear that the District has failed to provide their school with the stability and supports everyone needs to be successful.

The District painted the student walkout as an urgent student safety issue, but this concern rings hollow since teachers and families at Ockley Green have been asking the District to address student safety issues for years. Where is the urgency when it comes to making sure all our schools have the systems in place to be safe and welcoming for all students? And how does the District plan to enhance school safety when it’s unassigning so many educators across District? This is not the way to build a safe and supportive learning environment.

These cuts are also undermining many important safety components in the PAT-PPS contract. For example, Article 9 requires Multi-Tiered Systems of support at every school, as well as a clear climate plan and explicit school-wide expectations. Our contract also spells out the resources necessary to implement and support these systems, including time for professional development before the start of the school year and continuing every month, as well as time for school climate team work. School Climate TOSAS have also played an important role supporting this work.

This is why it was surprising to learn that just before Spring Break all of our Equity TOSAS, and many of our Climate TOSAS, were unassigned—especially given the urgent need to address both racial inequity and school safety in PPS. As yet, the District has no clear plan for how to maintain, much less build on, our equity work and our school climate work without these TOSAS.

It’s even more disappointing given the fact that, for years, PPS has dedicated resources to programs like Courageous Conversations, and paid lip service to issues of equity and inclusion. Yet when PPS is presented with a real chance to demonstrate an understanding of the impact of race on our members and students we serve, they are falling down.

After three years bargaining contract changes that were meant to help PPS and PAT work together creating safe and supportive schools, we are faced with yet another knee-jerk change, without educator input or clear communication to the broader school community.

In Solidarity,

Suzanne Cohen
PAT President