PPS Special Education teachers rally for better working conditions

Published: Oct. 28, 2022 at 9:38 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Portland Public Schools para-educators say continued staffing cuts are leading to a greater workload placed on their shoulders, making working conditions nothing short of difficult and at times feeling impossible.

Friday, the Portland Association of Teachers held a rally outside of PPS headquarters, presenting demands they say need to be met to adequately care for students.

Educators like Alana, a PPS Adaptive Physical Education Teacher, says when they’re overworked it’s not only impacting them but the students they serve.

Angela Bonilla, President of the Portland Association of Teachers says she sees that in the emails she receives.

“If special educators can’t even pause to get a break for lunch,” Bonilla explained, “kids aren’t going to get a quality education.”

Bonilla went on to say special education educators are being overworked to the point that it is negatively impacting services students depend on. Things like different types of therapy, only those with special training can provide. “We need help. We are drowning. We don’t know what to do. We cannot serve our kids.”

In the classroom, educators say the number of students under their care continues to climb. Meanwhile, so does the number of skills and duties they’re expected to be responsible for.

“We are starting to see this issue kind of compound this year,” Bonilla said. “That comes up as behavior. Behavior is a form of communication.”

“The para’s we have,” Alana explained, “I love them, but a lot of them aren’t able to run after a five or six-year-old that’s running out of the gym. It’s really not safe.”

Educators claim an email from PPS to parents reads that the student-to-teacher ratio in a special education classroom is 11 to 1. They say that’s far from true.

“The reality on the ground is that number is much higher because of our vacancies,” Bonilla said.

Friday, the group delivered a class action grievance to PPS. Those who received it said that they understand they’re understaffed, and in order to keep more para-educators they’re offering a $3,000 retention bonus. The group says it’s not enough, and that an underfunded program harms all students.

Bonilla says protecting special education students is up to parents, teachers and the community altogether. “Everyone who values strong public schools for every single student.”

Bargaining over contract negotiations will take place next Tuesday, and the group would like everyone and anyone to attend.

You can watch virtually here.