High School Students in Portland Protest on Behalf of Their Teachers

As Portland Public Schools try to lift limits on class size and reduce benefits for teachers, students are joining the fight.

Photo Credit: Erlo Brown

High school students from Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon are joining their teachers in the fight against a reduction in benefits and worse working (and learning) conditions. 

The campaign began with a walkout of about 200 students from the high school on last Friday, January 10th, and continued with a forced interruption of a meeting convened by Portland Public School district (PPS) on Monday evening. 

"If you strike, we do too," chanted a group of students and parents outside of the building, in solidarity with the teachers. The district meeting was quickly cancelled, and school board members moved into a closed-door executive session. 

The protesters had gathered out of fear that PPS was going to ram through a contract that would have eased limits on classroom sizes and made it more difficult for teachers to secure health insurance through the district. Currently, the school district is hoping to uncap the current limit of 180 students per teacher for six to seven classes, and let it rise all the way up to 50/1 per class, as has happened in nearby Beaverton school districtafter officials removed such limitations. Furthermore, the changes to the district's health insurance policy may end up costing each teacher about $11,000 more in coverage over a four year period. 

Oregon teachers currently take on about 35% more students per class than the national average, and the state has ranked among the five worst states in the country in staffing cuts. 

Jefferson High School has been villified by education "reformers" in Portland as a failed school, and more K-8 schools in the Jefferson "cluster"--the group of schools that feed into Jefferson--have been closed than in any other clusters in the district.

Compounding the pressure are federal funding initaitives tied to President Obama's Race to the Top campaign that have sapped money from Jefferson because of students' low marks on standardized tests. As the money has dried up, students have left the school in droves, and those left behind have had to make-do with fewer resources, programs, and teachers. 

Said Jefferson High School sophomore Mikey Garcia, who attended the protest last Friday, to Socialist Worker:

"I'm here because I love my teachers, and I love my school. But you know what's not fair? It's not fair that there are 43 kids in my anatomy class. It's not fair that my teachers don't have prep time to prepare lessons for me. It's not fair that the district is trying to take these things away, not give them more." 

As of now, the haggling between PPS and the Portland Association of Teachers continues, with a resolution no nearer than it has been during the last nine months of negotiation. 

Aaron Cantú is an investigator for the Marijuana Arrest Research Project and an independent journalist based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @aaronmiguel_
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