PORTLAND, OR — Dozens of registered nurses who work for Portland Public Schools say the district isn't taking the pandemic seriously enough. The charge is detailed in a letter from the nurses obtained by Patch.
As Patch previously reported, the district previously implied that teachers faked sickouts to force schools to close.
Last week, more than a half-dozen schools switched to remote learning. In an email to staff, the district's human resources director said they regularly received reports that teachers were encouraging colleagues to call out sick.
"Media statements from PPS repeatedly claim that the district is not closing schools due to the spread of COVID-19, but rather due to a shortage of staff," the nurses wrote. These statements are blaming teachers for taking sick time.
"But schools are short staffed because so many educators are sick or quarantined, or have families of their own to care for who are sick. Teachers should be supported rather than blamed."
The nurses say that the district is "is experiencing the worst outbreak of disease since the onset of the pandemic. Messaging that schools are safe–without taking the steps to make them safe–does not keep children safe."
The nurses write that what measures the district are taking are being undermined by a variety of issues, including:
Low up-to-date vaccination rates among students and an inability to maintain required 3-foot and 6-foot distancing;
Crowded classrooms and hallways;
Too few HEPA filters; non- medical grade masks;
Children testing positive so often that it's too fast to track;
Expired tests; and
Overly stretched staffing in every department
"While we acknowledge the value of in-person school for students, we are urgently concerned about the health and well-being of school communities during this surge in disease," the nurses wrote.
The nurses called on the district to:
Listen to nurses, educators and building administrators who are saying schools aren't safe right now
Stop blaming educators who are struggling with difficult and unsafe conditions in schools
Prioritize the health and safety of students and educators by taking meaningful, reality-based steps to ensure schools are safe
Invest in school health services. Oregon law recommends a ratio of at least one registered nurse for every 750 students, which they say is currently "far" from being met.
The district did not respond to requests for comment.