Teachers strikes and walkouts continued to sweep the country this week, as Oregon teachers took personal days off school on Wednesday to protest at six sites across the state, according to CNN. Though the walkout was not technically a strike, 600 schools in 25 school districts were forced to close due to absences, including Portland Public Schools, a district of 46,000 students.
“This is historic,” Oregon Education Association President John Larson said at a rally on Wednesday in Portland. “This is what we came here for today—is to make sure that we fund our schools.”
The Oregon teachers were protesting large class sizes and lack of school support staff like nurses and mental health counselors. Unlike many other recent teacher strikes and walkouts, low pay wasn’t one of their issues.
In a website set up for the day of action, the OEA lists a grim set of statistics about Oregon schools. An excerpt:
Nearly 45% of all Oregon classes have 26 or more students, with some classes as large as 56. Experts recommend class sizes of 18 or smaller or 26 or smaller with assistance for students to get the best education.
Oregon has the third lowest high school graduation rate in the country.
There are only 158 school librarians total in Oregon — less than one per district.
Oregon’s school nurse ratio is 1:5481, more than four times the national recommendation.
Oregon has half the school counselors than nationally recommended staffing levels.
These issues echo those that have spurred strikes, walkouts, and protests in districts across the country over the last year in states like West Virginia and California. Last week in North and South Carolina teachers took personal days to protest against low pay and lack of support staff.
“We might see students who are suicidal. We might have students write in their essays about siblings or parents who have drug addiction,” Patrick Martin, a high school English teacher in South Carolina, told CNN when asked about the need for mental health counselors in schools.
Oregon is considering a law that may alleviate some of the teachers’ concerns.
“The Student Success Act specifically raises revenue for schools, offering targeted investment grants for more mental health support, more after-school programs and much more,” state Sen. Rob Wagner told CNN.
“It adds $1 billion a year for schools in Oregon, with districts able to figure out where they need the money most,” he added. “This is a once in a generation investment for our children.”
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown supports the bill and says she will sign it if it passes—which is good, since there’s no help coming from the federal government.
This week, Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made some snide comments about striking teachers at the Education Writers Association in Baltimore, saying that teachers who want to protest for better pay and conditions in public schools should do so on “adult time.”