One Week Into the Teacher Strike and Portland Public Schools Parents Have Some Choice Words

Here’s what a few parents are most angry about, rated on a heat index from one to three chile peppers.

PPS Students atop City Hall's replica of the Liberty Bell cheer for teachers at a Portland Association of Teachers rally. (Mick Hangland-Skill)

Maybe check on the public school parents in your life. Chances are, they are activated.

Schools have been closed for a week now due to a Portland Association of Teachers strike. Some parents have been supporting teachers on the picket line, bringing snacks, marching and chanting in the rain. What do they want? Safe schools! When do they want them? Now!

Other parents—and it could be the same ones from the picket line—are watching their children loaf about the house, asking for snacks and screen time, and it all feels a lot like 2020. “The uncertainty is the hardest part,” said one mom, trying to decide if she could cobble together enough playdates for her elementary-aged children this week while she works from home or she’d have to cough up $375 for five days of sports camp.

The teachers’ union and Portland Public Schools have been bargaining for 10 months, with teachers working under an expired contract since June. The two sides remain about $200 million apart in their proposals, which chiefly differ on wages, class-size caps, and planning time.

With emotions running high for PPS families, we asked, “What are you furious about?” Here’s what a few parents are most angry about, rated on a heat index from one to three chile peppers.

Hanna Neuschwander, parent at Sunnyside Environmental School

🌶🌶🌶 PPS communications

Neuschwander did not appreciate the school district’s “editorializing” emails to parents in mid-September. “There was just something about the angle of those communications that totally radicalized me. I’m organizing strike stuff at my school now.”

🌶🌶 School infrastructure

During a June heat wave, her then-third grader’s room exceeded 90 degrees. Children suffered signs of heat exhaustion, including nausea and lethargy. The teacher brought in ice cubes for students, parents donated fans, and the class moved to the auditorium. “I think it’s very reasonable for teachers to be flagging this as unsafe and unacceptable learning conditions.”

🌶 Bargaining breaks

PPS and PAT did not bargain for the first two days of the strike. “If we have kids out of school, there should not be a day that anyone is allowed to not be sitting at the table. Why was that even possible?”

Maya Pueo von Geldern, parent at Vernon K-8 School

🌶🌶🌶 Class sizes

Von Geldern, the Vernon PTA’s vice president of communications, says ballooning class sizes have taxed even the most veteran teachers. “When a kid is dysregulated in a class of 33 and there’s no one there to help, there’s nothing that teacher can do,” she says.

🌶🌶 Disrespect for teachers

“They’re expected to suck it up for the sake of our kids,” von Geldern says. “How long do we expect people to take on more and not be compensated fairly? It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

🌶 State government

“I’m upset that the day before the strike, [Gov. Tina] Kotek chimes in to plead with the teachers to stay at the bargaining table,” von Geldern says. “They’ve been there for 10 months! She wants them to stay at the table, but she needs to get the state also at the table.” Von Geldern thinks the state should take a hard look at the largest kicker tax credit in state history and use it to better fund education.

Eric Happel, parent at Lincoln High School

🌶🌶🌶 Students missing school

“First and foremost, my concern is for the kids that are missing school,” he says. “I feel that is not on the front line of anybody’s thoughts anymore.”

🌶🌶 State government

Happel used the phrase “utter disgust” three times when talking about the letter 16 state lawmakers wrote to the Portland School Board last week warning that they would not appropriate state money to settle the strike. “What they’re really doing is trying to point their finger away from themselves,” he says. “Reality check: The state has underfunded education for years.”

🌶 Third-party mediation

PPS and PAT would benefit from making actual eye contact, Happel says, rather than bargaining through a mediator. “They don’t even talk to each other,” he says. “They are teaching students that the best way to solve a problem is to not solve it directly but to be passive-aggressive about it. Horrible.”

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