Process of arriving to Hybrid Learning requires extensive bargaining


Many of you may know that high schoolers have the option to return to in-person learning on April 19. The details of this transition are still clouded for most of us. So let’s start with the most pressing question. Will it be mandatory? The answer to this is no. 


Portland Public Schools (PPS) and the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) have been hard at work since late July of 2020 to arrange safe and accessible in-person learning during COVID. A discussion on Feb. 4 is when the two groups began to focus on decisions concerning in-person instruction in their bargaining meetings. 

With so many teachers being vaccinated the possibility of returning to the school buildings was becoming more and more possible. Since then, there have been seven extensive meetings between PPS and the PAT to determine the exact details of what in-person learning would look like. 


The Bargaining Teams


The Portland Association of Teachers bargaining team comprised of Charity Powell, Emily Markewitz, Francisca Alvarez, Thea Keith, Andre Hawkins, with Steve Lanchester as the Chair. This team consists of teachers from many different grade levels, including special education teachers and immersion teachers. The Portland Public Schools team comprised Claire Hertz, Claire Skelly, Shawn Bird, Emily Linnertz, and Brian Hungerford with a few alternating participants as well. The PPS team included Employee and Labor Relations and leaders in the district. John Berky and Peter Brogan attended as UniServ (Unified Service) consultants, their main purpose being to lead negotiators in the process.


The Process


The first plan PPS favored was SimulCast, which would have educators teaching some students in person while a recording of the class was being shown to students online. This model would have required teachers to make lesson plans accommodating learning in person and on virtual meetings at the same time. 

The PAT sent a survey out to the teachers to assess opinions on the SimulCast model. When asked which option would best meet your students’ educational needs for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year, only 7.5% (of educators) chose the Simulcast model for Hybrid instruction (Feb. 16). PPS on the other hand spent 1.5 million dollars on cameras for SimulCast. 

A meeting on the 25th of February was canceled by the PAT. In their bargaining brief from that date, they stated “Yesterday we realized that continuing to meet with PPS while it actively ignored PAT member positions was a futile endeavor, and therefore we canceled the bargaining session.”

The SimulCast model was officially thrown out of the discussions in the session on Mar. 4. In the March 4th Bargaining Brief the PAT said, “We would love to see the District return the cameras that they spent $1.5 million on, and instead use that money to truly modernize our classrooms and make sure our facilities are ready to provide greater indoor and outdoor in-person opportunities for students.” 


“Tentative” Agreement


The PAT and PPS agreed on a Hybrid Model which will have certain cohorts of students in the building at different times. In the meetings on Mar.4 and Mar. 11, they discussed having a Safety Committee for each building, increasing custodial staff, childcare options for educators, and the number of planning days educators would need before the transition to in-person learning. 

The most recent negotiation between PPS and the PAT took place on Mar. 14 and lasted until 12:30 a.m. The bargaining teams have come to what the PAT briefing described as a “tentative agreement”. 

Live classes in the morning will be the same as before, having periods 5 and 6 on Monday and Thursday and periods 7 and 8 on Tuesday and Friday. The in-person learning will occur during the asynchronous time from 1:05 to 3:45. 

We are to be divided into Red and Blue cohorts. You can check which cohort you are in in StudentVUE under student information and then additional information. Make sure to be prepared when returning to school. Bring your chromebook or laptop with a charger, a backpack, and a mask. Maintain social distancing and remain in the classroom unless you have a hall pass. You can find more information about the schedule and rules on the McDaniel website.


Safety Precautions


You may be worried about the safety precautions schools would be taking. Some precautions include replacing our out-dated air filters with HEPA filters- which are certified to collect 99.97 percent of particles of a certain size (0.3 microns in diameter)

Elicia Blackford, our PAT coordinator, describes other important precautions schools are taking. They are increasing the custodial staff and emptying the building to be deep cleaned every Wednesday. To prevent an outbreak of COVID in one of our schools these teams are trying to make in-person learning as safe as possible. For those worried about people wearing masks under their noses, teachers will be enforcing proper mask habits.

This information has been under constant changes and edits from both the PAT and PPS so you can expect more changes in the future. This is only a brief summary of the lengthy debates that have brought us this far. Plus, this article has only touched on how high schools will operate, k-5 and middle schools are a whole different story. 

ScreenShot from Minute 23:00