PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Portland Public Schools is accusing teachers of planning “sick outs,” a move they say is illegal.

This comes as schools across the country, including in Portland, have been forced to move to distance learning due to sick calls from teachers and students.

The latest two PPS schools to announce closures were Franklin High School and Tubman Middle School. PPS officials said COVID-related absences from both students and staff led to the transition to remote classes for next week.

In a letter released to KOIN 6 News on Thursday, the chief of human resources for PPS, Sharon Reese, claimed they are getting regular reports of teachers being asked by colleagues to call in sick with the intention of causing the district to close schools.

“It is unlawful for educators to participate in any sort of coordinated action to be absent for anything other than a legitimate reason under District policy,” Reese warned in the letter.

The Portland Association of Teachers strongly denied PPS’ claims, calling them “off-base, demoralizing to all educators, and an insult to our profession,” in a statement released on Thursday.

“Rather than recognizing our extraordinary efforts to support our students in the face of untenable conditions, or acknowledging their own failures to prepare for this latest COVID surge, District leaders are now accusing PAT members of engaging in illegal activity,” PAT’s statement read, in part. “Their message appears to be an attempt to intimidate anyone organizing to assert their rights under Oregon law and our union contract, following the guidelines of OHA to stay home when they are sick or have symptoms of COVID, or shouldering the responsibility to care for their own family members who are sick or who need to quarantine.”

The teachers’ union says PPS’ response demonstrates how “out of touch” the administration is with what’s happening in schools and comes off as an “attempt to blame educators for the District’s own failure to honestly and proactively address the current staffing crisis and public health emergency.”

PAT says Portland schools are only operating right now because of educators going above and beyond each day.

“Rest assured, PAT will aggressively push back on any attempt by the District to intimidate or harass educators from using their own sick time to deal with COVID infection or other illness,” their statement said. “We have been raising the red flag all year about dangerously low staffing levels in so many of our schools, and that the shortage would likely get worse if the District refused to address the underlying reason that educators are leaving the profession. The latest COVID surge has pushed a precarious situation over the edge.”

To read the full statement released by PAT, click here.