More than 40,000 Portland students have been out of school for 10 days. Those missed days set back learning for those students and throw a wrench into course lesson plans, but it’s also a violation of state law to deprive students of minimum instructional hours.
Oregon law requires students in kindergarten through eighth grade to be in school for at least 900 hours of instructional time for the school year. For high school students in grades 9-11, the requirement is slightly higher — 990 hours for the school year. For seniors, it’s 966 hours. Missing 10 school days makes hitting those hour totals a lot harder, and that’s not even counting the possibility of the strike lasting even longer or winter weather closing school even more.
Will Portland Public Schools restore the instructional time lost during the strike?
“That’s a great question,” Renard Adams, the district bargaining team member and chief of research, assessment and accountability, told OPB’s “Think Out Loud” Thursday. “What we want is students to not leave this school year without their required instructional hours.”
Oregon has been criticized for years for having a relatively short school year, compared to other states, though it’s a difficult comparison due to variation in how states set instructional time requirements. Oregon law dictates how many hours students are required to be in school, but contracts with teachers spell out the school calendar.
“What I want everyone to know is we’ll need to negotiate that as well with the association,” Adams said.
So like so many unresolved questions facing Portland Public Schools right now, lost instructional time is stuck in a familiar place — at the bargaining table.
“We need to talk about which days will be recouped,” Adams said. “Are we going to, for example, have school in session on Presidents Day? Are we going to, for example, have to extend the school year by a certain number of days to make up those hours?”
But while district and union officials have disagreed over numerous policy choices, and even over fundamental budget facts, the two sides are in alignment on the goal of restoring instructional time.
“We’re going to make up that time,” Portland Association of Teachers President Angela Bonilla told OPB Thursday.
The question isn’t whether; it’s when, or how.
“One of our proposals is to lengthen the student day by 15 minutes,” Bonilla offered. “We have longer days which will add hours.”
District and union officials agree on one other thing: The longer the strike goes on without the two sides agreeing on a contract, the worse the problem gets.
Both Bonilla and Adams agreed they’re focused on reaching a settlement as quickly as they can, to — as Adams put it — “get our students back in school as soon as possible.”
If PPS and PAT can’t agree on a way to restore all of the instructional hours necessary to meet state requirements, officials have a last resort. They can request a waiver from the state, allowing them to fall short of the hours requirement, for one school year.