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PAT Strike: Impacts Beyond the Classroom

[November 20, 2023]

November gets a bad reputation among parents of school-age children in Portland Public Schools (PPS) due to the number of instructional days lost to holidays, parent-teacher conference days, and teacher planning days. But this year, "no-school November" is no joke.

Students and teachers have been out of the classroom since November 1, as teachers strike for the first time in Portland. In addition to classroom teachers, the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) represents school counselsors, psychologists, and substitute teachers.

Portland Association of Teachers members on the picket line earlier this month.

The effects of the strike go beyond the loss of classroom time. Here are some of the ways that the prolonged shutdown has impacted the Hillsdale neighborhood.

Richard Stein, owner of the Hillsdale Food Park, said that business there has been "significantly impacted" by the strike. During the school year, food cart owners at the Park rely greatly on Wells students, parents, and staff to keep them busy.

Rika Hammond, owner of Phat Cart, reports that her business is down by 60% since the strike began. "It's been terrible for business and for students," she said. During the school holidays in December she usually plans to reduce shifts for her employees, several of whom are Ida B. Wells students. This year those reductions have come earlier than planned. She added, "We really appreciate the support from the Hillsdale neighborhood—keep coming to the food carts!"

During most of the strike, PPS buildings have been closed to to all but a few staff members, such as administrators and others not represented by PAT. Also excepted from the building restriction were varsity athletes, who have been able to continue to practice in preparation for the winter sports season, which will see its first contests at the end of November. At Wells, most athletic coaches are not members of the teaching staff and so are allowed to continue working with students.

Last Friday, PPS announced that schools would re-open on a limited basis on Monday, November 20, allowing some activities to resume. Thursday and Friday are holidays.

Prior to November 20, building closures shut down on-site childcare at school, leaving parents to scramble to make arrangments for younger children. Impromptu "strike-day camps" were quickly organized by local businesses that provide activities for children. In Hillsdale, SW Portland Martial Arts/Crossfit Portland and Other Worlds Games & Comics added to their regular schedule of activities for kids.

Also a result of the building closures, music and theater students at Wells lost weeks of valuable rehearshal time, putting fall performances in jeopardy.

The orginal November show dates for Wells theater students have come and gone, leaving a short performance window in December, assuming the strike is settled in time for students to return to school by November 27. Said theater teacher Jamie Miller, "We lose a lot if the show fails to go forward," referring not only to the loss of funds already spent on the production, but to what students stand to lose personally as well: "These seniors will have had their freshman seasons wrecked by the pandemic, and this one by a strike—what a high school experience."

Miller is hopeful that the show, a production of 'The Importance' by local playwright Sara Jean Accuardi, herself the daughter of long-time Wilson theater teacher Julie Accuardi, can go on.

Music students are in the same boat, having had no rehearshal time since the end of October. Band director Nick Caldwell said that this year's PIL Jazz Band Festival will likely be cancelled because of the strike, but that the Wells band December 13 Fall concert date remains on the calendar for now, probably with a reduced song list.

The Southwest Portland Community Band, also led by Caldwell, narrowly averted cancellation of its fall concert. The band, made up of around 70 adults and students, rehearses in the Wells band room, which of course has been inaccessible during the strike. The only available alternative rehearsal space came with a fee of $800 (per rehearsal), according to Caldwell. If the strike ends by November 27, band leaders plan to proceed with their December 3 concert with just one rehearsal under their belt.

As of Monday, November 20, childcare services can resume at schools, as well as limited student activities with building administrator approval and appropriate supervision. Teachers are still on strike and will not be in school buildings. School offices will be open by appointment for families to register, request transcripts, etc. High school winter athletics will resume at all levels. Schools remain closed to the public during the strike and expanded services will be available by appointment only.

With the limited re-opening, the Wells student band will rehearse for the first time this month on November 20. With their band teacher still on strike, rehearsal will be conducted by a student and supervised by a member of the administrative staff.

—Valeurie Friedman


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