PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - The Portland Public Schools district sent an email to educators saying it's "unlawful" to coordinate absences for illegitimate reasons after hearing rumors that staff was making efforts to shut down schools by calling in sick.

On January 12, District Chief Human Resources Officer Sharon Reese sent out an email suggesting the influx in staffing shortages has the district wondering if every sick call has truthful intentions.

“It is discouraging to have to send this message to all staff when the vast majority are showing up as you can and taking approved leave when you need to do so, but we are getting regular reports of educators being asked by colleagues to call-in sick with the intention of causing the district to close schools. Not only does this undermine our core mission by depriving students of in-person learning, it also detracts from the ability of educators to take leave to deal with COVID or other legitimate reasons,” Reese said in the email. 

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"Professional educators are expected to submit appropriate leave paperwork to cover absences and report absences timely and accurately," Reese continued. "Otherwise, work time is expected to be devoted towards your professional responsibilities. Any educator who chooses not to comply with these expectations is subject to investigation and discipline.”

FOX 12 spoke with an instructional specialist at Scott Elementary School, Angela Bonilla, who was in awe when she received the email. She said the district doesn’t support them in the first place, and this feels like a great way for them to deflect what they should be working towards, which is keeping everyone safe.

“My initial reaction, like a lot of other educators, was frustration. We've been on the front line, you know, working with our kids every single day. We were the ones dropping off computers and food and jackets and resources to kids when we were left kind of in the lurch before the district had a plan when we first went to RDL. We've been the ones on the ground and so the insinuation that we're actively trying to not do our jobs was hurtful,” said Bonilla.

FOX 12 also spoke with president of the Portland Association of Teachers, Elizabeth Thiel, who said educators are not taking being out sick lightly.

“I've heard from educators who get up at 5:00 in the morning to write some plans so that they can stay home and be in isolation because they're COVID positive and that somebody else can teach their kids and with, you know, the plans written by their own teacher,” said Thiel.

At the end of the day, Thiel's concern is that this message will pressure teachers to return to school, symptoms, or not.

“The Oregon Health Authority says if you have symptoms of COVID that you should stay home frequently. Workers need to stay home if they have symptoms, and so we're letting educators know that this message cannot be a reason to not follow health guidelines.”

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