The Pacific Green Party wholeheartedly supports the Oregon Education Association (OEA) in struggles with local districts over upgrades to school safety.
No person would argue that remote learning is just as effective as in-person learning, but the health and safety of in person learning should be paramount. The Pacific Green Party supports the CTU, OEA and all unions and would like to see the schools given additional safeguards before students, teachers, and staff go back into their schools at full capacity. When safeguards and staffing can not be met, pauses on in person learning are also paramount in a pandemic. We must all work together to add safety as quickly as the virus creates mutations that undermine older protocols.
The unions are taking a stand to help protect members from contracting the Coronavirus, but in doing so they are also protecting the health and safety of the children in the public schools and their families. Although political leaders argue that schools are safe, they are ignoring certain salient points.
The CDC and Portland School district recently lowered standards for quarantine from 10 days to 5 days. Many school districts have shown caution by retaining a 10 day quarantine combined with a test negative to return policy. Secondly, stakeholders are demanding safety upgrades that are being installed in many districts but being denied in Portland, Chicago and many Oregon districts. A list of 14 safety upgrades is listed below:
- Funding, supporting and encouraging safer outdoor lunch spaces
- Funding, promoting, improving safer indoor lunch spaces
- Continue upgrading HVAC systems in classrooms
- Supporting vaccines for students who can.
- Offering onsite school vaccines for students and parents
- Supporting and offering boosters for students old enough
- Randomized testing of asymptomatic students
- Improved tracing and testing, ample supplies of rapid tests on demand in schools
- Notifications of classmates and their guardians when a positive case was in the same class and removing previous restrictions that prohibited notifications.
- Situation rooms that take notification workload off school staff
- Offering supplies of KN95 masks to students for voluntary use
- Stricter cohorts
- Easy to follow, one page, one sided, fridge mounted stay home checklists that are clear and complete (sent home in the home language)
- Science based genomic tracing: When a school has a cluster over 5 students it would be easy and helpful to do genomic matching. School staff or staff in local Oregon counties can contact OHSU and have those cluster samples tested to see if the transmission is student to student or not. Oregon districts can contact [email protected] to be part of this diagnostic. The PPS board has refused to answer this question on Genomic tracing. We have the tools. We have the right to know how much COVID is moving student to student and then home.
- Many people catch COVID with no symptoms, or just a headache. PPS has a deadly and outdated stay at home checklist on their main page and family guide link (see page 8). PPS leaves out most COVID symptoms. - People with CDC COVID symptoms have been allowed to attend school. People with the CDC symptoms have had school staff tell them they have the flu and don't need a test.
Portland teachers have documented dirty conditions that existed before COVID and remain as complaints in COVID: lack of toilet paper and soap, especially in schools that have large populations of students of color. Yet union members are expected to trust that the schools are not only kept clean but “deep cleaned”.
Another point is that the Omicron variant has shown to be more contagious. It is still filling hospitals to capacity and resulting in record case numbers in the nation. Oregon had a period of 5 days in December where the entire state had only 2 open pediatric ICU beds. Currently only 3% of 700 ICU beds in the state are available.
There is uncontested data on the alarming number of orphans being created in the pandemic "One U.S. child loses a parent or caregiver for every four COVID-19-associated deaths, a new modeling study published today in Pediatrics reveals." (Hills, 2001) (link) "As of October 2021, estimates are as high as 175,000 children in the United States having lost a caregiver (Jetelina, 2021)." (Ahmann, 2002) (link)
People can and do still die from this. Children can and do still die from this. A major concern of teachers, students and guardians is that its members and the student bodies may take the virus home to their families who may not have been able to get any of the vaccines, may be immuno-compromised or have a family member who is in that position, putting their health and lives on the line. This isn’t just about the schools, it’s about broader public health.
A year ago the Boards of Chicago and Portland schools came to agreements to protect students, guardians and teachers. What the unions are asking for now is based on prior agreements. Why are districts reluctant to agree to what they agreed to in the past? Why did Portland school's leadership accuse teachers of illegal activity on Jan 12th when teachers enacted their contractual labor rights to care for dependents, and stay home due to symptoms?