Over the past few years, a series of troubling scandals have shaken Portlanders’ trust in their public school system.
In 2016, it was revealed that district officials had withheld lab test results showing that most of the city’s public schools had elevated levels of lead in their drinking water. Last year, in-depth investigations by The Oregonian found that the district had helped conceal allegations of sexual misconduct against two teachers – Mitch Whitehurst and Norm Scott – who later went on to assault at least a dozen female students. A subsequent investigation in the Portland Tribune uncovered that Andrew Oshea, a special education teacher who had been placed on administrative leave in 2015 after he was charged with drunk driving and assault, was still on the district’s payroll. In fact, Oshea continued to collect paychecks while serving time in jail for a violating a restraining order filed by his ex-girlfriend.
These scandals make clear that Portland Public Schools has a serious transparency problem. Yet the Portland Association of Teachers is now trying to limit access to public records in the district and they’re using their new collective bargaining agreement to do it.
The union’s collective bargaining agreement, which the Portland Public Schools Board of Education is expected to ratify this evening, includes a clause that would not only prohibit the district from disclosing any information about teachers placed on administrative leave, but would even prevent them from acknowledging whether or not a teacher was on leave. The proposed contract would also allow PAT to bargain on issues related to the school board’s public records policies, meaning that those policies could be revised in closed-door negotiations in the future.
The union’s bid to limit access to public records is particularly concerning given the fact that they actively tried to block the release of information about Andrew Oshea, the former special education teacher who was placed on administrative leave for nearly two years. Earlier this week, it was revealed that the union threatened to sue the district after they released public records about Oshea to a local journalist.
The public has a right to know about allegations of misconduct by teachers. The Portland Association of Teachers’ effort to conceal that information shows that they believe that the interests of their members should come first, even at the expense of the safety and well-being of the students they serve.
That may be the biggest scandal of all.