Oregon Teachers Accused Of Faking Sick To Shut Down Schools

With school systems refusing to shut down schools over concern for the damage it does to kids, it appears teachers are starting to take matters into their own hands.

By Rick Gonzales | Published

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sick teacher fake school shutdown

State by state, battles concerning keeping public schools open or returning to remote learning continue to be waged. Teachers’ unions are at constant odds with public school systems over the ability to safely return to the classroom. With school systems refusing to shut down schools over concern for the damage it does to kids, it appears teachers are starting to take matters into their own hands. At least, this is what the Portland Public Schools (PPS) says about its teachers. PPS has claimed teachers there of pretending to be sick in order to shut down the school..

Sharon Reese is the human resources chief for PPS and last week she accused teachers within the school system of coordinating sick calls in order to get schools to shut down. As of last week, eight schools within PPS have closed or have gone onto remote learning as the number of teachers dwindled. In response to all the sickouts, Reese drafted an email that she sent out to educators last week. In part, it read:

“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 … So we need to be clear: It is unlawful for educators to participate in any sort of coordinated action to be absent for anything other than a legitimate reason under District policy.”

The Portland Association of Teachers union wasn’t having any of it. They immediately went on the offense, first attacking the email and PPS by calling their accusation “off-base, demoralizing to all educators, and an insult to our profession.” They then went on to attack the PPS in general with a lengthy rebuttal of their own.

“Rather than recognizing our extraordinary efforts to support our students in the face of untenable conditions or acknowledging their own failures to prepare for this latest COVID surge, District leaders are now accusing PAT members of engaging in illegal activity,” PAT’s statement read, in part. “Their message appears to be an attempt to intimidate anyone organizing to assert their rights under Oregon law and our union contract, following the guidelines of OHA to stay home when they are sick or have symptoms of COVID, or shouldering the responsibility to care for their own family members who are sick or who need to quarantine.”

The battle taking place in Oregon is just one of the many seen going on across the country. With COVID cases on the rise, in some places out of control, and the new omicron variant taking lead, teachers, through their unions, are mobilizing to obtain school shutdowns and return to remote learning. Although parents, students, district leaders, and even those in office have been asking for a return to in-person learning, the teacher’s unions aren’t having any of it.

In Chicago, one of the most powerful teacher’s unions in the nation, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), shut down schools for the fifth time in the past ten years. Their claim, this time, was the state’s COVID mitigation policy. Although Mayor Lori Lightfoot pleaded with the union not to shut down schools, they did with a four-day walkout. Eventually, the two sides got back to the negotiating table and hammered out a deal that highly benefited the union. As many in the state of Illinois were quick to point out, this is the third time under Mayor Lightfoot that the CTU has gotten everything they wanted and more.

Back in Oregon, the battle may be taking on that same tone. Some, though, called the fight the final straw. Keri Troehler is an educator who has worked in the Portland Public Schools system for nearly two decades. She just sent in her resignation letter to the PPS, saying enough was enough. She doesn’t feel the PPS is doing remotely enough to adapt to the COVID pandemic.

“I was thinking about taking a leave of absence for at least a year and just kind of getting some space, and I just thought all that year is going to do at this point is remind me of why I don’t want to go back,” she said via KATU 2. She feels the school system is working too closely with parent groups like Oregon’s ED 300. This parent group’s mission states they “are 30,000 Oregon families devoted to reopening Oregon schools and sports.”

“The negative just hate and vitriol for who we are just feels really personal, and I just, it doesn’t make me want to do this work,” Troehler said. One can understand how Troehler has come to her conclusion. Teachers are the front line. They are the day-to-day that makes classrooms go. Unfortunately, ED 300 founder, Kim McGair, does not agree with Troehler’s assessment of her company.

“I think we have to get away from an us versus them mentality for teachers and parents. We’re in this together, we’re in this for the kids. PPS has numerous stakeholders, right? It’s got teachers and parents and kids,” McGair said.

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So who, in the long run, are these school shutdowns for? Sadly, caught in the crossfire once again are the minds of our youth. The ongoing pandemic has caused significant damage worldwide to businesses and livelihoods, but according to a study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most of the damage is being done to the mental health and wellness of our children by way of virtual learning.

One of the big issues coming from remote learning is the lack of social interaction. As schools begin to once again close down, children will once again lose the ability to socialize with friends. Kids will find themselves behind a computer screen, unable to engage not only with friends but with the concept of in-person learning.

Safety in schools should be a priority for all – students, teachers, and staff. So, for one group holding so much power over the other in making a choice for all, makes compromise hard to come by. Guess who pays the price.