Members of the Portland Association of Teachers last week voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strike should contract negotiations in Oregon’s largest school district fail to yield an agreement soon.
The union gave notice to Portland Public Schools on Thursday, Oct. 19 that they would begin striking on Nov. 1.
PPS and a state mediator have since provided new dates for bargaining. Four additional mediation sessions have been scheduled for the last week of October. It’s still possible a strike and subsequent school closures could be avoided if the two sides can reach an agreement by the end of their final mediation session on Oct. 31.
If they strike, it would be the first in Portland Public’s history.
District leaders — as well as families, child care centers and employers throughout the city — are preparing contingency plans.
PAT represents nearly 4,500 teachers and coaches in these negotiations. These educators have been working without a contract since the latest PAT-PPS collective bargaining agreement expired in June.
After months of deliberation, key sticking points include class size limits, compensation, student discipline measures and school building conditions.
Here’s what we know of the current contingency plans should teachers go on strike.
Will schools be closed?
Yes. Most PPS schools will be closed to students, volunteers and the public. The length of the strike, and therefore the closures, is indefinite.
PPS officials said teachers would not be available to provide in-person or virtual instruction.
The only exceptions to closures are charter schools and certain student support activities. District officials said students can continue to attend classes scheduled at non-PPS schools.
District staff will be working and available to answer questions.
Will students continue learning?
District officials said school work would not be required to be completed and no new assignments would be given. Middle and high school students are encouraged to use this time to get caught up on any outstanding assignments, they said, and all students will have access to optional, supplemental learning resources.
Families will have access to self-directed, digital resources to provide ongoing, supplemental academic and social-emotional learning from home. These and more are available on the PPS website:
Online K-12 tutoring will also be available, officials said, and there will be trained PPS staff available to work with young students who have especially high needs in reading instruction.
What if I don’t have needed technology or internet access at home?
PPS has resources for families who need technological assistance for their students during the strike.
District leaders in a recent announcement said they will survey kindergarten through second-grade families — who don’t have devices checked out already. They said they would ensure “any student who needs a device has access to one.”
All students and families have the ability to call the district’s tech support desk at 503-916-3375 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Free Wi-Fi is available at all public libraries in Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties. Additionally, families in lower-income households may qualify for reduced-cost home internet through the Affordable Connectivity Program.
How are high school seniors being supported during the strike?
Virtual and in-person college visits will be postponed.
Designated staff will be available via email, phone or virtually if a student needs support during the strike. District officials said students can work now with their school’s college and career coordinators in preparation.
Information on how to access transcripts is available here. The district said teachers and counselors will not be available to write letters of recommendation for students during the strike.
What about special education services?
Direct special education services will not be provided to students during the strike.
For students who are deaf and hard of hearing, the district said classrooms at Creston Elementary and Mt. Tabor Middle schools and the Wilcox Deaf and Hard of Hearing Preschool will be closed.
Officials said out-of-district placements, charter schools and community-based organizations services will continue.
The district intends to continue motor activities for students through virtual consultation, according to the PPS website. Occupational therapists will contact the families of students they serve by phone, email or Google Meets.
District officials told parents that for students with an Individualized Education Program, their IEP teams will need to determine whether compensatory education services are appropriate.
What about Outdoor School?
Outdoor School trips for the weeks of Oct. 23-27 and Oct. 30-Nov. 3 have been rescheduled for the spring session.
According to PPS, the schools scheduled to attend Outdoor School during those weeks are Cesar Chavez, the Metropolitan Learning Center, Robert Gray, Lane and ACCESS.
PPS will provide more information about the new dates to those families and students when it becomes available.
Will the district have to add instructional days to the end of the school year?
This remains unclear and will largely depend on state requirements and the length of a strike.
District officials said they will provide students and families with additional information regarding possible make-up days once negotiations are complete and a date has been set for classes to start in school again.
School closures will not impact students’ attendance rates.
Will meals still be provided?
Yes. PPS officials said the district will provide free grab-and-go meals for all kids, ages 1-18, during the strike. They are still finalizing pick-up locations and times.
Additionally, food pantry locations can be found on the Oregon Food Bank Finder.
What about clothing and resources for students experiencing homelessness?
According to the district website, the PTA Clothing Center at the Marshall High School campus in Southeast Portland will be available by appointment on Mondays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the event of a strike.
Students can get clothing center referrals from their school counselor or administration staff.
Contact Tanesha Dawson at email@example.com or 503-916-3216 ext. 63216 to schedule an appointment.
All services will continue for families currently receiving services from the PPS McKinney-Vento Program, the federal program that supports unsheltered students and their families.
Are resources available for student mental health?
Yes. Services will be offered for students who are currently seeing a school-based mental health provider. District officials said this arrangement will be made between the provider and the student/family.
PPS Student Health Centers at Benson, Cleveland, Franklin, Jefferson, McDaniel and Roosevelt schools will remain operational during the strike. Services will be provided both in person and virtually, including new patient appointments.
More information and direct contact information are available on the district’s website.
Will childcare be available?
No. All child care and day care services provided at schools will be canceled as long as schools are closed to the public. This includes before- and after-school care.
However, district official Renard Adams, who’s also part of the PPS bargaining team, told families in a recent virtual meeting that limited space may be available through community-based organizations.
Some groups, like VIDA School’s Beaverton location, are planning to make room during the strikes. VIDA School offered co-working space for working parents and dedicated areas on-site for kids during the pandemic closures as well.
When asked in the virtual meeting last week why child care will be canceled, Hannah Witt with PPS’ Human Resources Department said, “There are great concerns around having our students in buildings where educators may be outside picketing. And we want to ensure that our students feel safe and are not in a place where they need to cross a picket line.”
Will student extracurricular activities and sports continue?
All arts programs, rehearsals and performances will be postponed or paused during the strike, according to the district website. This includes all events during after-school hours. Officials said this is largely due to limited staffing and indoor building access during a strike
However, varsity sports will continue. Only students, coaches and trainers will be allowed on-site for practice. Students will be admitted by school personnel.
Students and the public will be able to attend any varsity contests held at PPS locations during the strike.
PPS officials told OPB that non-instructional, athletic coaches are in the PAT bargaining unit. However, the district still believes they will have sufficient staff to cover a limited number of athletic events, and they are prioritizing varsity events.
What about PTA events?
Witt with PPS Human Resources said many PTA events require a Civic Use of Buildings permit.
In the event of a strike, the CUB permits for indoor events will be canceled each day, she said, similar to what the district does for inclement weather.
However, permits for fields and playgrounds will not be canceled.
Can students participate in the strike?
Yes. According to the PPS website, any member of the public is allowed to picket with the union.
Picketing can take place on public areas such as sidewalks and parks, but it cannot obstruct access to property entrances or exits, officials explained. Picketers may carry signs, yell and chant, the website states, as long as there are no threats of physical harm or engagement in physical intimidation.
Lastly, picketers may not destroy property or commit other unlawful acts while picketing.
Can a PPS employee get in trouble for striking?
No. According to PAT, staff have the right under state law to engage in a lawful strike with their co-workers. Retaliating against those participating in a strike would be unlawful.
PAT officials told OPB the expectation is that union members don’t work during a strike, including duties such as grading papers or answering emails. PPS officials said the district would not shut off access to PPS email accounts.
What if someone is probationary or working as a substitute?
The same protections apply to both probationary teachers and contract teachers, according to union officials. The district cannot lawfully dismiss someone, refuse to renew a probationary contract or not extend a teacher contract because they went on strike.
Under current substitute contracts in the district, PAT officials said substitutes can remove themselves from further assignment during a strike. And those who actively participate in strike activities receive the same strike benefits as members, up to $120 a day.
If I’m a PAT member, can I use vacation or personal time off during the strike?
No. Union leaders said teachers cannot use vacation or personal time off while simultaneously striking. Teachers will have access to the union’s strike fund, and the district can withhold pay for work duties not performed.
Can the district withhold health care benefits during the strike?
Not exactly. But it depends on the length of the strike.
As union leaders explained it: “Because bargaining unit members earn their health insurance for the following month by working through the 15th of the current month, it would be unlawful for the district to withhold payment for health insurance that you have already earned just because you later participate in a strike.”
However, if the strike spans a long time, the district can cease making additional monthly payments for insurance for the time someone is not working.
In that case, PAT leaders said they would use the union’s hardship fund as needed.
How are employers throughout the city responding to the strike?
With Portland schools serving about 45,000 students, families across the city will face challenges during the strike. Some employers are preparing for such a disruption.
“City leaders are encouraging as much flexibility as possible to support employees impacted by the strike,” wrote Michael Jordan, chief administrative officer for the city of Portland, in a recent email to all city staff. “Unfortunately, we can’t offer a one-size-fits-all solution because our employees perform so many different types of work, across a wide spectrum of schedules and locations.”
Jordan said managers are encouraged to consider new vacation requests, reduced or flexible schedules, and increased telework as their operations allow.
He also said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has directed the city to waive the requirement that hybrid employees perform half their work in person for the duration of the strike, for staff who need to work virtually to care for their children.
Where can I get more information?
PPS’ full contingency plan — including enrichment activities in the area and district recommendations on how to talk about the strike with your children — is available at pps.net/strikeresources. District officials said recommendations for how staff can share information with students are forthcoming and will be shared with educators soon.
PAT’s impasse and strike FAQ, largely geared toward workers, is also available online.