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School nurses defend Portland Public Schools teachers accused of misusing sick time

The letter is in response to accusations made by the district that some teachers are misusing sick leave.

PORTLAND, Oregon — More than 30 school nurses contracted by Portland Public Schools (PPS) signed an open letter to the district defending PPS teachers. The letter was in response to a recent email sent to teachers by the district’s human resources office accusing some of them of misusing sick time. The letter said in part, "We are getting regular reports of educators being asked by colleagues to call-in sick with the intention of causing the district to close schools."

The teachers union condemned the email, saying, "This message from PPS is off-base, demoralizing to all educators, and an insult to our profession.”

“We're seeing case numbers that we did not see at all in the fall,” said Jennifer Makinster, a registered nurse at Grant High School. 

Makinster helped write the open letter and was one of 36 nurses to sign it.

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 “We wanted to support [teachers] because nurses see the reality of what's happening in those schools.”

The nurses’ letter criticized the district for suggesting school closures are happening because of staffing shortages, rather than citing the spread of COVID-19 as the reason.

"Schools are short-staffed because so many educators are sick or quarantined, or have families of their own to care for who are sick,” the letter stated. “Teachers should be supported rather than blamed."

The letter also noted the district's shortage of school nurses. State law currently recommends one nurse per 750 students. Right now, PPS has one nurse per 1,253 students.

“They're having a hard time feeling like they can adequately do the job they're asked to do and nurses are in the school because they love kids and it's hard,” said Makinster.

She also noted that conducting COVID testing is also an issue due to staffing shortages.

“[Testing] is being promised, but we don't have staff to do testing or tracking of the tests and we're also being asked to use tests that have been expired,” said Makinster.

Those who signed the nurses’ letter hope things will improve and that people who are sick will heal. In the meantime, they're asking the district to stop assigning blame on anything but the virus itself.

In an email to KGW, PPS' chief of staff, Jonathan Garcia, said the district is actively looking into the incidents referenced in the email to teachers and can't share more detailed information at this time.

“Our top priority at the moment is to work closely with our staff, partners, and labor partners to ensure our schools can remain open,” wrote Garcia.

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