PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - Union presidents from five school districts in Oregon sent a letter to Gov. Kate Brown Thursday asking for substantial resources before they feel they can reopen classrooms safely.
Two days before Christmas, the governor urged schools to return to in-person learning next month, changing her prior mandate to an advisory and putting the decision to go back to school in the hands of districts.
Educators in Portland, Beaverton, Salem-Keizer, Hillsboro, and Eugene say in the message that while the earlier statewide metrics were "based on science and data," the governor’s recent announcement "pushes an arbitrary timeline for reopening schools."
A few of their requests include free and frequent access to COVID-19 testing in each school site, a clear plan to make vaccines available for school staff (because as the letter points out, school employees may not be fully vaccinated by mid-February), and significantly increased resources in terms of class sizes, additional nurses, counselors and more.
FOX 12 spoke to Elizabeth Thiel, the president of the Portland Association of Teachers.
She says most school buildings in Portland haven’t been renovated in many years, and it’s hard to imagine going back to school without updated ventilation systems.
“One thing that I don’t know that everybody knows is many of our classrooms don’t have good air circulation. It’s been a problem for years. We’ve been asking for mold remediation for years in many classrooms because there is not good air circulation. Our buildings are old. A lot of classrooms don’t have operable windows or many operable windows. I, myself, have had two different classrooms that had no window that opens in my teaching career,” said Thiel.
As of Monday afternoon, Thiel said she has not heard a response from the governor. FOX 12 also reached out and didn’t immediately hear back.
Thiel does make clear that educators are anxious to get back to school, and they look forward to a time when it can be done safely.