PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Desperate for more resources, special education teachers at Portland Public Schools are voicing their frustrations outside the offices of district leaders as bargaining negotiations heat up.
The educators are asking for supportive working environments they need to be able to successfully serve students.
According to Angela Bonilla, president of the Portland Association of Teachers, “this year close to 1 in 5 PPS students will need special education services, a 30% jump from last year. As educators, we’re determined to make sure these students are fully included in our classrooms and receive all the services they need to succeed. But we’ve heard from hundreds of special education teachers since the start of school and it’s clear PPS is shortchanging our special education students and putting both students and teachers at risk.”
“It started with educators from Special Ed. emailing us saying, ‘we need help, we’re drowning, and we don’t know what to do, we can’t serve our kids,’” said Bonilla.
During the Portland Association of Teacher’s special education “Week of Action” teachers gathered outside the administration building to present a grievance letter to district bosses — outlining the support they say special educators desperately need.
Bonilla said this support includes “actually getting their lunch break, getting enough staff in the buildings to keep everyone safe and making sure teachers get the time they need to prepare for their students.”
Additionally, Bonilla says a lack of funding and resources for special education has been a problem for a long time. However, she pointed out that the problem magnified in 2022 due to understaffing and teachers forced to deal with student behavior that’s worse than ever.
“We’re understaffed and the things we’re seeing in school are frankly dangerous,” said Darby Grandberry, a Portland paraeducator and a parent of a student in special education.
“The students that have IEPs, specifically needing our services, have to get left on their own because we have to deal with the bigger fires which is dangerous,” Grandberry explained.
According to school officials, the district serves 7,223 students in special education — an increase of 59 students from the 2021-22 school year.
While PPS said they began the school year with 70 paraeducator vacancies, they say that number has decreased to 32 vacancies — explaining they have worked hard to fill those positions including offering a $3,000 paraeducator retention bonus to help with recruitment.
Grandberry says more people might want to do the job if it paid better.
While the school district said they couldn’t provide an interview with KOIN 6 News Friday night, KOIN 6 asked to schedule one in the following week.
Bargaining over special education and safety resources will continue on Tuesday at district headquarters. The teachers’ union invites everyone to come show support. The session will also be streamed online.