PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland Public School officials have begun a series of meetings to update families on the future of Harriet Tubman Middle School.
The Northeast Portland school reopened in 2018 after PPS funded air quality solutions to combat growing pollution concerns due to the school’s close proximity to Interstate 5.
The current I-5 Rose Quarter Improvement Project plan has heightened health and safety concerns for the students of HTMS, as freeway expansion development is slated to begin in 2023.
“The freeway is being expanded, my question is what do we do with the kids? How do we prevent more harm from this project?” said School Board Chair, Michelle DePass. “We don’t have to move the school but I think it’s better for the kids that are developing lungs and brains not to be in these unhealthy conditions.”
In a series of virtual meetings with parents at Sabin Elementary and Boise-Eliot Elementary, PPS Chief Operating Officer Dan Jung outlined two plans of action to potentially relocate or rebuild HTMS in a safe and central location.
As described, Plan A would involve purchasing or rebuilding the school at a new site in the HTMS catchment area. While this model would limit impacts to feeder schools, PPS revealed that they have reviewed dozens of potential sites in this area and not a single one met their basic requirements.
Plan B would suggest relocating HTMS to a district-owned location to merge and upgrade the school. This would increase enrollment at schools with available capacity, but would likely disrupt students and families who have historically been impacted.
“If we’re talking about equity, we should not even have this meeting here until we talk to the black and brown families of who will be affected the most,” Chrysanthius Lathan, principal at Sabin Elementary, said.
She continued, “Working with community-based organizations is not the same as reaching out to the families who are going to have transportation changes and childcare changes and whose lives are going to be impacted once again.”
Moving forward, PPS said they will continue to hold community dialogue on the issue, review potential sites for relocation, and use preliminary studies to inform funding requests from the state.
“The initial conversations have been about money. Because it’s not our responsibility to move the school, it’s the State’s responsibility,” said PPS Director of Government Relations, Courtney Westling.
Though the two plans outlined in the presentation suggest relocation of HTMS, PPS was clear that no plans have officially been made and the board is considering all options.
“When we say all options are on the table, one option is to not move if that is what the community wants,” explained Westling.
A third meeting, this time with the parents of Irvington Elementary, is slated for Thursday evening.