Portland Public Schools students will not return to the classroom any earlier than Nov. 27, the school district told parents in a Thursday evening email.
Students have been out of PPS classrooms since Nov. 1, canceling 10 days of instruction. That means Portland’s teacher strike has blown past recent ones in Seattle, Los Angeles and Vancouver, Wash., which all lasted a week or less.
The district told parents tonight that bargaining talks with the Portland Association of Teachers had not produced enough consensus to salvage a Friday school day or parent-teacher conferences on Monday and Tuesday. At that point, the strike abuts the Thanksgiving holiday.
“Given where we are in the day,” chief of schools Jon Franco wrote, “there will be no school tomorrow (Friday, Nov. 17). Because school was already closed next week, this means our next possible day to reopen schools would be Monday, Nov. 27.”
A PAT spokeswoman expressed displeasure with the district’s decision to cancel next week’s parent-teacher days. “Without conferring with the Portland Association of Teachers bargaining team, and in the middle of an otherwise productive bargaining day, PPS district managers made the unilateral decision to keep schools closed through November 27th,” spokeswoman Samantha Winslow wrote in a statement to WW. “It’s unfortunate the district made this decision.”
The school district replied that it had already sent home bus drivers and lunch workers and couldn’t staff up on short notice. “Given this,” district spokesman Will Howell said, “we cannot open schools those two days even if we were to settle tonight, tomorrow, or over the weekend—which we very, very much hope to.”
It remains unclear how many days of the holiday week the district and the union will bargain. “We have not ironed out the schedule for the next few days,” Howell tells WW, “but we have indicated that we want to keep meeting every day until we get this settled.”
Portland teachers walked off the job Nov. 1 after contract talks with the district broke down. The two sides’ proposals chiefly differed on wages, class-size caps, and planning time.
As their leaders haggled at the bargaining table, teachers have picketed daily since then—mostly with the public support of parents who find common cause with the teachers’ demand for smaller class sizes. But many of those parents have grown increasingly frantic as a month without child care dragged on.
In recent days, it’s been widely reported that the remaining hurdle to a settlement was class sizes. On Thursday night, The Oregonian reported a major concession by PAT: The union removed a cap on class sizes from its latest proposal.
Franco told parents that the two sides were making progress on that front: “We continue to bargain, and the last few days have left us hopeful for a resolution. Once we reach an agreement with the Portland Association of Teachers, we will be able to decide whether and how to hold conferences at a later date. We will share a full return-to-school plan when we reach an agreement, including when student instructional time or school days may be made up.”
He did not mention another deadline that quietly passed today: If the teachers were not back in classrooms by Nov. 16, they will not be eligible for health insurance benefits in December, according to PPS. The district plans to mail its striking teachers a packet on Nov. 16 that instructs them how to enroll in spendy COBRA insurance plans.
This story has been updated throughout the evening.