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Portland teachers propose 1 self-taught day at home per week for high schoolers

The union representing teachers at Portland Public Schools said those days would provide teachers more time to plan.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A proposal from the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) to Portland Public Schools (PPS) asks the district to convert one day per week at district high schools to an asynchronous day, which means students would stay home and complete school work but wouldn't have any in-person classes or instruction.

On those days, teachers would be available to help students for three hours per day. Teachers would use the other three hours of the day for planning, including activities like grading student work and creating or adapting lesson plans.

Teachers said they need more time to deal with the increased need in classrooms.

"People are working harder than they ever have and they're still not able to do this because of the huge level of need across the district in so many different places," said John Berkey, a consultant for the union, in a virtual negotiation session between the union and the district on Monday. 

The union's proposal contains a total of 13 adjustments to the current collective bargaining agreement between the teachers union and the district. In a letter sent to members Monday night, the union said its proposal asks to limit staff meetings, shift teacher evaluations, eliminate "busy-work" from some educator meetings and a day for professional development dedicated to improving school climate.

"We know school climate is a major issue in many buildings," said Steve Lancaster, a high school teacher and bargaining chair for the Portland Association of Teachers. "It, of course, varies from place to place. For some, they are at what really feels like a crisis with school climate and for others, things are going okay. But a part of school climate is the mental health of our students and how we can support the mental health of our students."

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He said young people are in a mental health crisis that started before the pandemic and was made worse by it. Now, teachers are being forced to try to help students with mental health needs, something they're not generally trained on.

In addition, the union proposed shifting in-person school to online learning once a week for high schoolers, and a two-hour early release or late start for elementary and middle schools.

The district said it would result in 10 days lost of instructional time for the elementary and middle school levels, and 20 days less of in-person instruction at the high school level.

The district's Deputy Superintendent of Instruction and School Communities, Dr. Shawn Bird, said while the district wants to address the concerns from teachers, a proposal that includes reducing instructional days is one they cannot support. 

"We also agree that teachers need time to plan and they need time to address some of the school climate and culture issues," Bird said. "So we're looking at ways to creatively solve that problem without reducing time for students in school."

According to Elizabeth Thiel, the president of the union, currently, students at PPS attend four of their classes for 90 minutes per day two days a week (for example, on Monday and Wednesday). They attend their other four classes for 90 minutes on two other days of the week (for example, on Tuesday and Thursday). On the fifth school day of the week (for example, on a Friday), students attend all eight of their classes, with each class shortened to 42 minutes.

Thiel said those days with eight shortened classes are inefficient and ineffective and wants them converted to the asynchronous learning days for high schoolers or shorter days for elementary and middle school students.

"Teachers report that these days are very stressful for students and educators, that a huge amount of learning time is lost to transitions through crowded hallways, and that student attendance and focus on these days is very low," Thiel told KGW in an email.

The union and PPS had another bargaining session Tuesday and several bargaining sessions are also set, if necessary, before winter break in a couple of weeks. Changes approved would kick in when students return from winter break.

During negotiations on Monday, results from a recent teacher survey were mentioned. Lancaster said according to data, nearly 50% of educators at PPS are considering leaving.

"We’re going to have to do something and do something now and do something substantial or a crisis is coming," Lancaster said.

Read the full proposal from the Portland Association of Teachers:

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