Murmurs: PPS Teachers Pan COVID-19 Precautions

In other news: Lloyd Center experienced more fires last month than has been reported.

TEACHERS GIVE PPS AN F FOR COVID PREP: Portland Public Schools teachers put the district on notice two days before students returned to school Sept. 1 that they had serious concerns about inadequate preparations for in-person learning. In a letter signed and sent individually by teachers and staff, they demanded KN95 masks for all students, weekly COVID testing for students and staff, and consistent guidelines across the district for responding when someone is exposed to the virus. Another point made by teachers: Not all schools can arrange proper social distancing. “Certain schools do not have appropriate spacing or furniture to meet even the current insufficient recommendations,” the letter said. “There are classrooms in our district with no windows and classrooms that do not have the furniture to allow for even 3 feet of spacing.” Ellie McIvor, a teacher at Jefferson High School who signed the letter, tells WW at least seven classrooms at her school have shared tables rather than individual desks, not allowing for social distancing. At least 15 teachers from Jefferson sent the letter to district administration. PPS did not respond to WW’s request for comment.

EMPLOYEE ISSUES AFFLICT THE DALLES: A Wasco County man has filed a $750,000 lawsuit alleging racial discrimination and whistleblower retaliation by his employer, the city of The Dalles, where he was a maintenance worker in the public works department starting in 2017. Saul Ascencio, a first-generation Mexican American, filed the lawsuit Aug. 31, alleging The Dalles and his supervisor fostered a hostile work environment in which co-workers told him he was hired only because he was a “brown token,” claimed they were scared of him because “he is an MS-13 gang member,” and asked him if he had “cross[ed] the border.” Ascencio further alleges a white co-worker openly used the N-word in a breakroom to describe a Black person. When Ascencio reported the racist comments to the city, the lawsuit says, he was passed up for several promotions and ultimately terminated in September 2020. The lawsuit marks the second time in weeks that the city of The Dalles has been embroiled in public controversy stemming from employee issues: Last month, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that Wasco County District Attorney Matthew Ellis had filed a complaint against former DA Eric Nisley for allegedly withholding pertinent information for years about The Dalles Police Department Officer Jeff Kienlen, who was fired in March and barred from testifying in court cases after violating the department’s truthfulness policy.

OPPONENTS SAY I-5 PROJECT NEEDS MORE STUDY AND HOUSING DOLLARS: As the Oregon Transportation Commission prepares for a pivotal Sept. 9 hearing and likely vote on a design for the Rose Quarter freeway cap, the advocacy group No More Freeways penned a letter to the commission reiterating its objections to the project. Its chief complaint: The project needs to prepare a full environmental impact statement to make sure it’s consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act. “There are many unanswered questions about whether this design would make air quality, transit service, and neighborhood livability worse,” the letter read. After intense pressure from advocates and representatives of the historically Black Albina neighborhood, state leaders compromised on a new project design in early August that would create larger freeway caps in the Albina neighborhood. But No More Freeways says that’s not enough and more research needs to be done on the long-term effects of the project, including noise, air pollution and the relocation of Harriet Tubman Middle School. The group also floated another idea: that the Oregon Department of Transportation spend “at least several hundred million dollars” on housing in the Albina neighborhood to mitigate gentrification.

LLOYD CENTER FIRES POSE MYSTERY: A serious electrical fire that closed Lloyd Center Mall on Aug. 6 drew plenty of press attention, but Portland Fire & Rescue responded to two other fires at the mall Aug. 17 and 23 that went unreported. In both cases, firefighters extinguished blazes in a trash compactor but could not determine the fires’ cause. Fire bureau spokesman Aaron Johnson says it is “not a common occurrence” for the same location to have three fires in less than a month. Johnson adds that the bureau is seeking information from the public about how the second and third fires started. “We could not exclude an intentional human act as being the cause,” he says. Representatives of the mall, which reopened Aug. 26, declined to comment.