PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Though Portland Public Schools plans to re-open classrooms for hybrid learning won’t happen for another 2 months, the teachers union believe that when it does it will have a negative impact on students of color. Now, the union is asking the district and state to survey families of color before the doors open.
The Portland Association of Teachers sent a letter that asked “that no plans for the reopening of schools be made without intentional outreach and extensive feedback from families of color.”
Yolanda McKinney, a 2nd-grade teacher at PPS and a mother of 3 school-age children, told KOIN 6 News she doesn’t speak for all parents of color, “but I can tell you from the parents of color that I have spoken with they feel just as uncomfortable about sending their child back into the classroom.”
She noted that “unfortunately and historically our voices haven’t been heard and even when we do try to make our voice heard sometimes unfortunately we’re shut out.”
McKinney said the two biggest reasons she’s heard about not wanting to send kids back into the classroom are the ventilation system and the issues surrounding multi-generational households.
“The second issue is a lot of parents who are working outside of the home, either their kiddo is being cared for by someone who is maybe a grandma or grandpa or they might live in multi-generational households,” McKinney said
But Rene Gonzales, who has been an advocated for students returning to the classroom, said the issue shouldn’t be about race but instead be on individual families.
“We think children in families of every race and socio-economic class should have options for in-person education,” he said. “We think it is awkward for a predominantly white union to be reportedly speaking on behalf of BIPOC families. We’re a little bit troubled by that and, second, we’re troubled by the continuously moving goal-post for re-opening schools.”
Gonzales said to “advocate for what is right for your family. That’s all we’re asking.”
PPS responded to the teacher’s union in a lengthy letter to President Elizabeth Thiel. In part it said:
“Our focus groups have engaged over 200 families of color. The results of these focus groups have illuminated our planning and had us make both big and small changes. We also continue to analyze disaggregated data and metrics to inform planning. We are leading through inclusion and co-constructing solutions with an eye toward those most disproportionately impacted by the barriers and challenges that have been exacerbated during the pandemic. We’ve utilized our racial equity and social justice lens to ensure that we are mitigating any unintended consequences, as part of our analysis.”