Demanding more money and other changes, teachers in the largest school district in Oregon decided to go on strike for a month, causing around 45,000 students to lose time in the classroom that will have to be made up.
After over three weeks without classes, which included the Thanksgiving break, the Portland Public School (PPS) district announced late on Sunday that it had struck a tentative agreement with its teachers’ union and students would be going back to class on Monday.
Teachers began their strike on November 1, demanding higher salaries, better class sizes and more preparation time. The teachers still have to cast their votes on the tentative agreement with the school district, and the agreement must also be accepted by the school board. However, the union has chosen to allow classes to continue while these votes take place.
The students missed a total of 11 days of class because of the strike before the week-long Thanksgiving break.
“We are relieved to have our students returning to school and know that being out of school for the last three weeks—missing classmates, teachers, and learning—has been hard for everyone,” Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero wrote in a statement.
The teachers’ union has declared the tentative agreement a significant victory for both the teachers and students in terms of changes made to classroom size and teacher pay, as well as health, safety and mental health resources for kids affected by the COVID pandemic.
“This contract is a watershed moment for Portland students, families, and educators,” Portland Teachers Association President Angela Bonilla wrote in a statement. “Educators have secured improvements on all our key issues… Educators walked picket lines alongside families, students, and allies, and because of that, our schools are getting the added investment they need.”
PPS has announced that the new agreement would give teachers a 13.8% cumulative cost-of-living raise over the next three years, along with nearly half of all teachers receiving an additional 10.6% in yearly step increases. Starting next school year, classroom time for elementary and middle school students will be increased under the agreement — along with an increase in teacher preparation time for these classes by 90 minutes per week.
The agreement will also triple the number of team members devoted to promoting the mental and emotional well-being of students.
Meanwhile, many parents were angry over students’ potential learning loss during the teacher strike — especially after the major learning loss suffered during COVID restrictions. Students were not given the opportunity to take online classes during the strike.
Now, these students will be forced to make up the lost time by adding days to the new year and removing one week from winter vacation.
However, students weren’t the only ones harmed by the teachers’ selfish actions — as teachers reportedly stopped rush-hour traffic on Tuesday for nearly 15 minutes during their protest. They also reportedly vandalized a school board member’s rental property, and attached posters to another school board member’s vehicle, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.
It is likely that the increased cost incurred by the new agreement will be passed on to taxpayers, as PPS has consistently stated that it does not have the funds to comply with the union’s demands — and has instead asked voters to pressure state legislators to increase funding for schools. Meanwhile, the school district has reported that it will have to reduce spending in other areas to pay for the concessions made to the teachers’ union.
In response to this incident, many critics of teachers’ unions have now demanded that Oregon follow 37 other states and Washington, D.C., in outlawing teacher strikes over the effects on students.