Portland Teachers’ Union Proposes Self-Taught Fridays to Reduce Teacher Burnout

By Bill Pan
Bill Pan
Bill Pan
December 2, 2021 Updated: December 3, 2021

Amid staffing shortage in schools across Oregon, Portland’s teachers’ union is seeking to turn one of the five school days into an “asynchronous instructional day,” in which high school students would stay at home and do school work while receiving limited online instructions.

Citing an “unprecedented staffing crisis,” the Portland Association of Teachers on Monday proposed (pdf) that any eight-period day, which typically falls on the fifth school day of the week, should be converted into an asynchronous instruction day. During those days, teachers can use three hours to help students online, and use the remainder of the day as “educator directed planning time.”

For students in grades preK-8, the union suggested that each week should include one two-hour student early release or late arrival day. The union also proposed two additional planning days, and one professional development day immediately following winter break for high schools.

In response, Portland Public Schools (PPS) said while the they want to address the teachers’ concerns, they cannot support a proposal that would cut as many as 20 school days for tens of thousands of the district’s students.

“While we share the urgency to address issues impacting our educators’ experience this school year, we do not believe that dramatically reducing in-person learning hours for students is in the best interest of our students, their families and our community,” Shawn Bird, the deputy superintendent of instruction and school communities at PPS, said in a statement.

According to Bird, if approved, the Portland Association of Teachers’ proposal would reduce in-person school experience by about 20 days for high school students, and by about 10 days for students in elementary and middle schools.

That being said, Bird told the union that the PPS agrees with ideas such as canceling non-essential staff meetings, and that it is working to add students and families into problem solving conversations.

The union’s push for self-taught Fridays also drew criticism from ED300, a 40,000 member-strong advocacy group focusing on keeping Oregon schools open for in-person instruction.

“All available data demonstrates that students have suffered significant learning loss as a result of school closures during the pandemic, with the losses most extreme among our most vulnerable students,” Eric Happel, a member of ED300 whose three children attend PPS schools, wrote in a statement denouncing the union’s proposal.

The statewide COVID-19 vaccine mandate for K-12 school employees, which was announced in August and came into effect in October, did not help mitigate the staff shortage at PPS. According to The Oregonian, the district had to terminate some 138 teachers, or two percent of its teaching force, who didn’t meet the vaccination requirements.

Bill Pan