Education

Portland schools abuzz as classes resume after historic strike

By Natalie Pate (OPB) and Kristian Foden-Vencil (OPB)
Nov. 28, 2023 12:10 a.m.

Union members celebrate being back, students lament holiday-break changes after tentative deal

School counselor Claudia Brown plays the violin to welcome back students at Lent Elementary in Southeast Portland on Monday.

School counselor Claudia Brown plays the violin to welcome back students at Lent Elementary in Southeast Portland on Monday.

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

Smiles, hugs and a few tears. That was the scene at Lent Elementary in Southeast Portland Monday morning as students filed in to see their teachers and principal.

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Claudia Brown is both a parent and educator at Lent Elementary. She learned about the tentative deal in an email she received on Sunday evening.

“I was crying. It brought tears to my eyes,” said Brown. “I’ve never been so happy to go to work.”

More than 40,000 students returned to classrooms Monday as Portland Public Schools’ first-ever teachers strike ended.

Members of the Portland Association of Teachers began their strike on Nov. 1. It stretched for over three weeks but was settled with a tentative agreement Sunday afternoon.

Union members will vote on Tuesday whether to ratify the proposed contract, and the PPS school board will hear public comment and vote on contract approval in its Tuesday evening meeting.

Marcos Dominguez and his three-year-old Santiago get ready to start preschool again at Lent Elementary in Southeast Portland on Monday.

Marcos Dominguez and his three-year-old Santiago get ready to start preschool again at Lent Elementary in Southeast Portland on Monday.

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

Marco Dominguez has three kids. Both he and his partner work full-time. He’s grateful to get past the constant challenge of finding day care and organizing activities during the strike

“It’s definitely a big reliever for us. To get back on schedule,” Dominguez said.

“Especially for my youngest. He misses it. And it was kind of unfortunate to get pulled out of school for a month. I know he’s excited. We’re excited.”

As a welder, Dominguez said he didn’t take time off work to look after his kids during the day. Instead, he relied on his big support system, including his family and friends.

But throughout the strike, he said, he remained firmly in support of teachers.

Brown said her 11-year-old learned a lot during the strike, even though he wasn’t in class.

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“I was lucky because he really wanted to be involved with the strike, and he was with me almost all of the time,” she said. “He even gave a speech during one rally.”

As a counselor, Brown plans to reach out to kids who were having problems before the strike.

Claudia Brown celebrates a tentative end to the strike as she arrives to start teaching again at Lent Elementary in Southeast Portland on Monday.

Claudia Brown celebrates a tentative end to the strike as she arrives to start teaching again at Lent Elementary in Southeast Portland on Monday.

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

Some students felt the strike set them back.

Sophia Minko, a ninth grader at Roosevelt High School in Portland, said she spent the strike “chilling at home, watching TV and slowly becoming dumber.” She and her friends weren’t sure what to expect this week and the rest of the semester. But she’s not happy about the solution for making up lost instructional time.

Students missed 11 school days because of the strike. The district has announced 11 instructional days that will be added to the school year as a result. Nearly half of them will come out of the upcoming winter break.

What had been the first week of that break — Dec. 18 through Dec. 22 — will now have classes. In addition, professional development days on Jan. 26 and April 8 are set to become school days for students, as well as Presidents Day on Feb. 19. The school year is also being extended by three days in June.

“I’m mad because I like my full winter break,” Minko said, “and I kind of wish they’d just added it on to summer.”

A blue sky and a brick building with a flag in the background. A group of three students and a single student behind them walk toward the school on the sidewalk.

Students walk into Roosevelt High School in North Portland on Monday. Students had been out of class for weeks as Portland Public Schools teachers remained on strike Nov. 1 through Nov. 26, when a tentative agreement was reached.

Natalie Pate / OPB

She’s not the only one. Other students OPB spoke to about this said they wished it was handled differently — maybe added days at the end of the year or extra time tacked on to individual school days. Some students’ families will have to figure out last-minute changes to their holiday travel plans. It’s unclear how the district will handle the likely rise in student and staff absences that week.

Fellow Roosevelt ninth grader KeMiya Williams said the time away from school has been boring, and every day, students just wondered when they would go back to class. Williams has been spending time with family, friends and her dog to pass the time. But she missed out on a lot during the strike.

“Everything’s been canceled,” she said, pointing to a speech and debate tournament she was disappointed to miss out on.

Williams was surprised to hear winter break would be cut short, but she understood why.

“I guess … it’s necessary because, like, we missed [a] whole, entire month of school,” she said.

Her words of encouragement to other students were to not worry about being alone through this. Everyone’s in the same boat, trying to figure out what comes next.

Rob Manning contributed to this story.

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