Portland Public Schools Must Now Consider Race, Gender Identity When Disciplining Students

New collective bargaining agreement centers district's disciplinary procedures on 'racial equity and social justice'

(Martine Severin/Grabien)
December 2, 2023

A new collective bargaining agreement between Portland Public Schools and its unionized teachers requires school officials to consider a disruptive student's race, gender identity, and sexual orientation when crafting that student's disciplinary plan.

When a student exhibits "continuous disruptive behavior," the agreement says, school officials must develop a "support plan" for the student, which can include disciplinary measures such as detention. That plan "must take into consideration the impact of issues related to the student's trauma, race, gender identity/presentation, sexual orientation … and restorative justice as appropriate for the student," according to the agreement. The new disciplinary policy also eliminates mandatory suspensions for students who threaten or harm others—now, those students may only be removed from their classroom, not from school altogether.

The policy change reflects a broader effort at both the federal and local levels to develop race-conscious disciplinary rules for public school students. Earlier this year, for example, the Biden administration released a memo urging schools to refrain from suspending students for truancy, arguing that "significant disparities by race … have persisted in the application of student discipline." School districts in Washington and Illinois, meanwhile, have adopted disciplinary policies that aim to provide a "culturally responsive" and "restorative approach" to student discipline.

Parents Defending Education senior adviser Michele Exner slammed Portland Public Schools and the Portland Association of Teachers for their "absurd" disciplinary policy changes.

"These policies are wrong, counterproductive, and will only feed into the divisive climate we are seeing across academic institutions," Exner told the Washington Free Beacon.

Neither Portland Public Schools nor the Portland Association of Teachers responded to requests for comment.

Portland Public Schools' ratified its latest agreement with the city's Portland Association of Teachers on Tuesday following a teachers' strike that kept students out of the classroom for nearly a month. As a result, students will see their winter break cut in half to make up for lost class time, a move that parents have complained will impact their holiday plans.

"Now, the kids won't be home until the 23rd, so we have barely any time before the holiday," one parent told Portland's NBC affiliate.

The district's collective bargaining agreement attempts to center school disciplinary procedures on "racial equity and social justice." In a November 2022 memo, for example, Portland Public Schools' collective bargaining team argued that "Black, Native American, and other students of color are referred out of class significantly more often," reflecting the need to instill "Restorative Practices" into the district's disciplinary process.

Such practices will see the district cut back on "exclusionary discipline," which refers to student suspensions and expulsions. Prior to the latest Portland Association of Teachers strike, students who threatened or assaulted their classmates were subject to mandatory removal from school. Now, those students can be removed from class and sent to a "self-regulation space" located within the school.

The district's new agreement also waters down language related to student behavior and discipline. Instead of "handling" a disruptive student, for example, the agreement calls on school officials to "support" that student. The agreement also no longer refers to "unacceptable" student behavior, instead citing "continuous disruptive" behavior. The district used to create a "behavior correction plan" for a misbehaving student—now, school officials craft a "support plan" for such a student.

The district's decision to change its disciplinary procedures for students comes after Portland-area students experienced an uptick in fights and behavioral problems after returning to the classroom for the 2021 school year. The district responded by working to build up its "restorative justice practices," which district official Char Hutson said aim to shift away "from this punitive way of how we respond" to student discipline.