Like other school districts and public institutions around the state and the U.S., Portland Public Schools is scrambling to respond to the growing threat from the COVID-19 coronavirus.
In a Feb. 29 message, PPS urging hand-washing, vigilance and urged families to rely on official sources such as the Multnomah County Health Department and the Oregon Health Authority for information and updates.
But the PPS message went on to highlight another development: It warned that students from Asian backgrounds had been "targeted and discriminated against" at school.
About 6.5 percent or just over 3,200 of the district's 49,478 students identify as Asian.
The email did not say whether the discrimination toward Asian students came from classmates or someone else. A district spokeswoman did not immediately clarify that point.
"While checking in with staff and our community partners in the weeks since the first case of coronavirus, we've heard about discriminatory behavior toward Asian students," says PPS spokeswoman Karen Werstein, "so we wanted to address this head on in our communication with the PPS community."
Here's what the district said in its statement to families and staff:
"We are aware of reports that some of our Asian students were targeted and discriminated against in connection to the coronavirus," PPS said. "This is unacceptable and contrary to our values of racial equity and social justice. Fear of the outbreak has fueled xenophobic remarks and behaviors in the weeks since the first case of coronavirus. It is important to distinguish medical precautions from racist and discriminatory behaviors. At PPS, we value racial equity and social justice. Our responsibility is to provide welcoming, safe, and inclusive schools where every student can learn and grow to reach their potential, and we do not tolerate hate speech or acts of discrimination. This is especially important at a time when fears about the virus can too easily foster suspicion without regard for facts. Please keep close to our core values, continue to treat everyone in our community with respect and recognize the dignity and humanity of everyone."
The district also told families and staff it is taking precautions to prevent the virus from spreading.
"School custodial crews will focus on and increase the frequency of disinfecting high-touch surfaces such as door knobs, desks, and sinks, as part of increased and enhanced daily cleaning practices. When needed, PPS has relationships with several outside firms to assist with deep-cleaning efforts, and in any case where there is an apparent contagious virus present, we will follow cleaning and disinfection protocols from Multnomah County and the Centers for Disease Control. We are also extending our increased cleaning protocols to school busses."