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Putin Invades Ukraine, Met With Cascade of Sanctions and Resistance

The Russian government began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb 24, 2022. His presumed reasoning is to overrun Ukraine and get rid of the government, preventing Ukraine from joining the NATO alliance. So far, almost $63 billion of damages have been recorded by the Kyiv School of Economics, and more than 1,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict, according to the United Nations (UN). Recently, Russia promised to “scale down” military operations around Kyiv and Chernihiv. According to the UN, 10 million refugees have fled from their homes in Ukraine. More than 3.5 million have left the country, while 6.5 million people have been displaced within Ukraine. The United States and many other countries have both placed sanctions against Russia in response to the invasion.

The Biden administration has sanctioned many of the largest companies in Russia, all of which have ties to the Russian government. These include Sberbank, a primary financial institution in Russia, and VTB Bank Public Joint Stock Company (VTB Bank). Russian financial institutions like these two conduct roughly $46 billion worth of global transactions every day, according to the US Treasury, with 80% of those transactions using U.S. dollars. 

“Prohibitions against U.S. trade or investment in Russia-occupied regions of eastern Ukraine and sanctions against those who operate in those regions,” are included as well, according to the U.S. House of Representatives’s Committee on Financial Services.

The U.S. has sanctioned Nord Stream 2 AG, a company attempting to construct a natural gas pipeline through the Baltic Sea connecting Russia to Germany.

The U.S. also sanctioned a number of Russian elites after the invasion. These elites include President Vladimir Putin, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov, Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, and Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov, according to a U.S. Treasury statement. Other sanctions were imposed on wealthy Russian elites, many of whom are “oligarchs.” These members of the Russian aristocracy have close ties to Putin and have attained vast financial success through work with the Kremlin.

Russia’s and Belarus’s current position on export controls that were recently imposed were described as “the most comprehensive application of Commerce’s export authorities on U.S. items,” according to the U.S. Commerce Department. New controls on exports from the U.S. Commerce commenced restrictions on “sensitive U.S. technologies produced in foreign countries using U.S.-origin software, technology, or equipment.” The controls listed intend to limit the abilities of foreign manufacturers to export “semiconductors, telecommunication, encryption security, lasers, sensors, navigation avionics and maritime technologies” to Russia. They added “export controls on oil and gas extraction equipment,” according to the White House memo.

Franklin High School Economics and Government teacher, Mark Zimtbaum, helps explain the purpose of sanctions. “Sanctions are restrictions one country puts on another country because they want them to change something. The purpose of sanctions is to change a country’s behavior.” Sanctions may last as long as the country wants them to; both countries no longer do any business while sanctions are in effect. “Just like most countries we all buy and sell stuff to each other. Russia mainly sells resources like natural gas, oil and metals.” The sanctioned country can also create sanctions in retaliation. “They can be sanctioned back. Basically not trade stuff with the U.S. or Europe.”

Other entities that have been involved in sanctions include the European Union (EU), Switzerland, Japan, and many more, according to Reuters. 

The German federal government, led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, has been cutting itself off from Russian oil dependency. They suspended their certification of the Nord Stream 2, which would have given Germany a source of energy from Russia.

Satellite images from October and November 2021 had captured Russian tanks, aircrafts, armored vehicles and Russian troops deployed along the eastern border of Ukraine, no explanation provided from Putin. In December, Putin demanded that NATO decline Ukraine’s entry into the alliance and that NATO must reduce military presence in nearby countries. More than 100,000 Russian troops were in place near the Russia-Ukraine border. The U.S. and others threatened Russia with sanctions in the event of an invasion in Ukraine.

On Jan. 23, the US began to evacuate certain staffers based in Kyiv, according to Reuters. On Jan. 27, Biden suggested that Russia could invade in February. Members of Chinese leadership defended Russia’s plan, telling the U.S. that Russia has “legitimate security concerns,” according to the BBC. On Jan. 28, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenkskyy worried that Western “panic” could harm Ukraine’s economy, according to the BBC. On Feb. 1, Putin said that “it is already clear that fundamental Russian concerns ended up being ignored.” He suggested the Russian government was not planning an invasion. On Feb. 8, the French government aimed to calm the situation down, but Russian spokesperson Dmitry Peskov suggested that this was unlikely, saying that “in the current situation, Moscow and Paris can’t be reaching any deals,” according to the Associated Press (AP). On Feb. 10, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had a discussion, but Lavrov recounted the meeting as “a conversation between a mute and a deaf person,” per the New York Times

On Feb. 16, NATO prepared commanders to deploy battlegroups in the region, not believing in the chance of Russia de-escalating. On Feb 23, a Ukrainian national state of emergency was approved due to the Russian threat, Moscow evacuated the Kyiv embassy, and Washington warned of the potential for a Russian military operation. On Feb. 24, the Russian military led an attack on Ukraine, while Putin demanded that the nearby countries’ armies lay down all weapons. On March 2, the Ukrainian city of Kherson became the first city to fall since the attack. 

On March 4, the Russian military seized Zaporizhzhya, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, reported BBC News. 

On March 6, Ukraine said Russia was targeting civilians. The Russian military had been shelling four cities: Kharkiv, Mykolaiv and Mariupol, and the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv. On March 8, Some civilians fled the Ukrainian town of Sumy. Supply routes and hospitals were attacked in the city of Mariupol. The U.S. Congress decided to contribute $13.6 billion in spending for Ukrainian refugees and military forces. The day after, a Russian ceasefire helped some civilians escape the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Mariupol, Chernihiv, and Sumy. On March 13, Russia continued its targets westward, firing 30 cruise missiles at a military training base in Yavori; 35 people were killed and 134 were injured in the base attack. On March 15, Ukraine’s government stated that 20,000 civilians in Mariupol had managed to evacuate the besieged city through a corridor, according to the AP. Viktor Zolotov, an aide of Vladimir Putin, has admitted the war in Ukraine has not gone entirely as planned.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an alliance of many North American and European countries intended to protect its members from invasion. NATO has admitted other countries bordering Russia, including the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, all formerly part of the Soviet Republic, according to the Los Angeles Times. In 2008, NATO eventually admitted Ukraine. Vladimir Putin viewed the possibility of Ukraine’s alliance with NATO as an act against Russia. Ukraine became independent from the Soviet Union in a landslide vote in 1991.

In 2014, The Ukrainian people ousted a Russian sympathizer president who would not sign an agreement with the EU. Russia’s response was to invade the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, and to provoke a separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine. In February 2015, a ceasefire agreement was signed, but 14,000 Ukrainians died in conflict, and 1.5 million civilians are still displaced in parts of Ukraine.

Minsk Agreement: Two peace agreements, known as Minsk I and II, have key issues remaining unresolved and have not been fully implemented. Minsk I was drafted in 2014 by Ukraine, Russia, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). It was later signed in September 2014 for an immediate ceasefire. The agreement failed to stop fighting altogether, so a revised and updated agreement was signed, known as Minsk II, in Feb. 2015. Ukraine agreed to grant some autonomy to separatist regions in exchange for a ceasefire.

Earlier in Putin’s presidency, he led the Russian government to invade the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia. The conflict lasted five days in 2008 and led to Russia almost reaching Georgia’s capital of Tbilisi.

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Portland Public Schools Budget Planning Deepens Divide Between Teachers and District

Portland Association of Teachers President, Elizabeth Thiel addresses the Portland Public Schools Board on February 22nd regarding proposed staffing cuts. Portland Public Schools is planning on cutting a total of 107 educators as a result of decreased enrollment and inflation. Photo via PPS Communications on YouTube.

Following a projected drop in enrollment, Portland Public Schools (PPS) has outlined a budget plan to cut roughly 107 teachers from district elementary and middle schools, causing backlash across the PPS community. Since the declaration to cut “student-facing positions” was made in mid-February, the district and educators have each made their case for how to spend the district’s approximate $700 million for the 2022-2023 school year. 

The PPS “General Fund” operates as the primary fund used for day-to-day operations, covering staff, transportation, materials, supplies and utilities. The fund is composed mostly from local revenue and money from the statewide school fund grant. How much of this money PPS receives is reliant on enrollment in PPS schools in relation to other districts around the state.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, PPS projected an 8 percent decrease in overall enrollment for the 22-23 year. These findings clash with estimates made by the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) in Feb. 2022, which suggest that weighted enrollment (a composite in which special needs or at risk students are counted as more than one student) will only decrease by 1.65%. Despite projections of fewer students in the district, total funding is expected to increase. 

Portland isn’t the only place where many families are finding alternatives to public schools; it’s a statewide trend. Because there’s a predetermined education allotment from the state, and enrollment is down across the state, funding per student is on the rise. According to ODE estimates, PPS will receive $9,376 per weighted student in the 2022-23 school year, up from $9,032 this year. This will make for a total of $507.6 million, over $2 million more than in the 2021-22 year. In combination with the additional state funding, the district is expected to have $26 million in the 22-23 general fund more than in the 21-22 year. Regardless of the increase, the district insists that it is not nearly enough to maintain teachers. 

Portland Public Schools projected that their general fund expenses will rise by $44 million going into the following school year. The increase is mostly staffing costs, up $26 million, and transportation costs, up $13 million. At a February PPS Board meeting, the district shared a projection in which, at the current rate of spending and staffing, PPS would be facing a large budget deficit by 2024. 

Declining enrollment in combination with a looming budgetary crisis has led the district to call for a staffing reconfiguration, eliminating 107 ‘school-based staff,’ 83 of which are classroom teaching positions. 61 educators will be cut from K-5 homerooms, 31 from middle schools, and 4 from overall physical education. High schools will gain 7 teachers, and overall arts education will gain 5. “If we don’t have the money to pay for [staff], the cuts are going to have to come from somewhere,” says PPS Board Member Eilidh Lowery. 

The Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) argues that cutting staff is unnecessary according to budgetary models PPS has shared. In addition to state funding, PPS has a large sum of federal money which the PAT believes can be used to prevent cutting staff. “Right now, we are not facing a budget deficit. We don’t have to make any cuts at all. So it is incredibly disconnected from the way we talk about schools when we are jumping to make cuts to student services, when we don’t even have a budget cut to necessitate it,” says PAT president Elizabeth Thiel. 

Already exhausted educators worry that cutting staff will lead to large class sizes. “I’ve been a teacher for 18 years and there is nothing that matters more to a teacher’s ability to reach their students than having small class sizes,” says Thiel. “The more you know your students and the fewer [students] you have, the better your ability to actually tailor learning to meet the individual needs of those human beings.”

PPS refutes the claims that staffing cuts will lead to a drastic increase in class sizes, citing projections that show, “Nearly 98 percent of all classrooms are staffed below the maximum class size thresholds.” This data, based off of PPS enrollment data rather than that of the Oregon Department of Education, shows that the average size of K-3 classes will be 22 students. Title 1 (Schools in which children from low-income families make up at least 40 percent of enrollment) and CSI (Comprehensive Support and Improvement) Schools boast average K-3 class sizes of 20 or fewer students. 

At the center of the debate over where or where not to allocate funds are Portland’s historically underserved students of color. Testing conducted in fall of 2021 and published in the Oregonian showed that black fourth-graders were a year behind in reading and two and a half years behind on math. When it comes to closing this achievement gap, PPS Board Member Eilidh Lowery doesn’t believe class size is the answer. “The data around that … shows that smaller class sizes aren’t actually effective at increasing student learning until you’re talking about classes of about 15 kids,” says Lowery. “If our focus is on student outcomes, cutting a class size by three kids is not going to make a difference.” Lowery believes that targeted interventions like summer school, reading specialists, extra mental health workers and tutors, better serve students that are underserved: “We are making choices about investing in our black and native students. And that means we will be cutting classroom teachers.” 

For Thiel, class sizes have been imperative to closing the achievement gap. “It’s been hard to create safe environments for kids at school, let alone you know, that high quality learning environment that every student deserves to have, and smaller class sizes is one of the most important ways to create a safe and supportive learning environment,” she says.

Teachers aren’t the only ones voicing their displeasure towards the district’s decision around staffing. Five members of Oregon’s legislature and the BIPOC caucus sent a letter to district leadership sharing “frustration” that “budget cuts were all aimed at direct student contact positions.”

The dispute has deepened the divide between teachers and the district. Recent board meetings have been a show of passionate testimony from teachers opposing the decision. Lowery comments on the frustration, saying, “ I mean, I think this is the hardest moment of my time on the board. Everyone is exhausted and they’re massive decisions to be made and they’re massively unpopular. And so it’s how do we do the right thing for students in this really critical moment?”

Staffing allocations are the first step in a lengthy process to finalize a district-wide budget. In “phase two,” Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero will propose a finalized budget, to be approved by the board in June. 

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A Breakdown of Oregon’s Gubernatorial Primary Poll Leaders

The leading candidates for Oregon Primaries. The Oregon Primaries will take place May 17.
Illustration by Quintana Jones

Many young voters worry that their vote will not make a difference, or that they are not properly informed. In regards to the former, it is noteworthy that in the 2008 election, voters between the ages of 18 and 29 made up 52% of the counted votes, according to the Brookings Institute. And as for being informed, it is overwhelming. There are 38 total candidates running to replace Kate Brown as Governor of Oregon; these are the four main contenders.

Oregon hasn’t elected a Republican Governor since Victor Atiyeh, who served from 1979 to 1987. This year, Betsy Johnson, who’s running as an Independent, has caused some distress among the Democratic Party as she could take votes from the more moderate voters that have previously aided the trend of Democratic success. This increasing tension is the result of Democratic leadership facing a pandemic and all the repercussions on the economy, schools, housing and of course, public health. This year especially, Republicans are making a push to get a gubernatorial candidate elected for the first time since 1982, as many Oregonians feel the last few years have been mishandled.

The Oregon Primaries will take place May 17, 2022. In order to vote online or in person for the primaries, one must be registered by April 26. This condensed report of important points is intended to help inform those becoming first time voters, or perhaps those discussing Oregon’s future with the registered voters in their lives. To register to vote, visit: https://sos.oregon.gov/voting/pages/registration.aspx?

Christine Drazan for the Republican Candidacy 

Growing up in the forestry community with her family in rural Oregon, Drazan, a mother of three and a 4th generation Oregonian, believes that under the Democratic governors of Oregon for the past decade, “[Oregonian Democratic control] hasn’t resulted in the utopia we were promised,” she said in an interview with KOIN.

Priorities (from campaign website)

Lower taxes are Drazan’s consistent priority.

If elected to office, Drazan’s first order of business would be to immediately repeal Governor Brown’s Covid-19 mandate for vaccines, mask mandates in the remaining areas such as transit and healthcare settings, and social distancing protocols.

Oregon before the Capitol’s interests, in regards to federal legislature v.s state agendas. 

Drazan would work towards ending voter fraud and securing elections by making it “easier to vote but harder to cheat.” Drazan has acknowledged President Joe Biden’s victory as legitimate.

Addressing homelessness is one of the few things the candidates agree needs to happen. How to do this is a different story. Drazan’s office would utilize nonprofits, faith groups, and cracking down on crime.

Credentials

Minority Leader in the Oregon House of Representatives (2019-2021)

Member of Clackamas County School District budget committee

Chief of Staff to the Republican Speaker of the House in the 90s

Notable endorsements

Oregon Chiefs of Police Association

Oregon Right to Life

Randy Lauer- Mayor of Troutdale

Clackamas County Farm Bureau

Controversies

On her campaign website, Drazan wrote that “when Kate Brown and Tina Kotek cheered while Portland burned, Christine condemned the violent rioters and defended law enforcement.”

Former Democratic Representative Diego Hernandez faced sexual harassment charges surrounding both verbal and physical assault by seven women in May of 2020. Drazan commented on the situation in a June 2021 interview with KATU News, saying that “victims need to know that they can come forward and that the process will result in change and that did not happen in this case.” 

Tina Kotek for the Democratic Candidacy

As the first openly lesbian Speaker of House in the country, Tina Kotek moved to Oregon from the East Coast in the 1980s after her parents, first generation Americans, settled there. It was here that she attended the University of Oregon through the Pell Grant. Her extensive time in the Oregon State House resulted in a long list of legislation praised by liberal leaning Democrats. She and her wife Amy, who is a social worker, live in NE Portland. 

Priorities (from campaign website)

Kotek believes the lack of Housing for the Homeless is a humanitarian crisis. Her number one priority is creating access to affordable housing, and providing services for addiction and mental health.

Climate and environmental protection by transitioning away from fossil fuels and towards zero emission vehicles. Part of Kotek’s vision for climate justice is creating ways to help communities on the front lines of natural disasters and increase infrastructure that will build resiliency for Oregon.

Creating economic opportunity in the post-pandemic Oregon through family wages and professional development for trades jobs and utilization of community colleges. 

Racial justice achieved through transformative training for law enforcement, and ensuring equitable economic development for BIPOC communities.

Education and Child Care with improving graduation rates to 90% for all student groups, as well as effective child care to families of all economic status.

Protection of reproductive rights for people with uteruses, and addressing the mortality rates of women of color.

Credentials

Early career at Oregon Food Bank

Speaker of the House (2013-2022) 

House of Representatives (2006-2022)

Notable endorsements

Planned Parenthood

Building Power for Communities of Color

NAYA Action Fund

Oregon League of Conservation Voters

Val Hoyle, Oregon Labor Commissioner

Controversies

According to OPB, in a deal regarding the support of the next Speaker of the House for Janelle Bynum, Bynum said that Kotek wasn’t holding up her end of the deal, one that Bynum claimed had more benefits for Kotek than for Bynum.

In a conversation with Sara Gelser, one of the women who accused former state Sen. Jeff Kruse of sexual assault, Kotek reportedly said that her allegations were complicated by Gelser’s “likeablity,” according to Willamette Week. Kotek later apologized for the impact of this statement.

Tobias Read for the Democratic Candidacy

Read was born in Idaho and raised in Montana before attending Willamette University in Oregon. A father of two kids in public schools, Tobias Read says he will “measure our progress by how the children of Oregon are doing.” During his time as Treasurer, Read focused on Oregon Saves, a program that made retirement possible for many workers. 

Priorities (from campaign website)

Reducing rising rates of gun violence by banning untraceable firearms, buying back guns, and holding parents accountable that don’t properly store weapons.

Ensuring effective K-12 education and possibility of higher education by issuing baby bonds, initiating early literacy programs, and special education support.

High Quality Affordable Childcare for all Oregon families. 

Creation of “safe, clean shelters and transitional housing” while long term affordable housing units are being built to get our houseless community off the streets.

“Dramatically increase Oregon’s investment in renewable energy” and placing environmentalists on boards of large energy corporations.

Credentials

Oregon Treasurer (2012-2022)

Chief Sponsor of Oregon Retirement Fund (2015)

Early career at Nike Corporation

Notable endorsements

Barbra Roberts- former Oregon Governor

James Manning- Oregon State Senator

Joe Buck- Lake Oswego Mayor

Michael Alexander- Former President of Urban League of Portland

Controversies

“The guy is a wet noodle,” according to Steve Pedery, conservation director of the nonprofit Oregon Wild, in an interview with Willamette Week. Pedery and Oregon Wild have suggested turning Oregon’s Elliott State Forest, while Read has voted to sell, into a state conservation area. While there are no specific incidents that mark Read as having enemies or controversies, his opponents say he is ineffective. “If you’re drawing up a list of the most effective Oregon politicians, no one would put Tobias Read in the top five,” added Pedery.

Betsy Johnson as an Independent Candidate

Running unaffiliated with any party, Betsy Johnson won’t be on any primary ballot, but will be up for general election after gathering 25,000 signatures in summer 2021. As a licensed commercial pilot for airplanes and helicopters, she founded her own aviation business called Transwestern Helicopters. She formerly belonged to the Democratic party but describes herself as fiscally conservative.

Priorities (from campaign announcement video)

Supporting Law Enforcement in dealing with the homeless “public safety crisis,” as well as providing more funding and resources.

Repealing COVID-19 mandates set by Kate Brown, in favor of optional masks and vaccines. 

Reproductive Rights remain protected, primarily abortion.

Working to combat climate change without raising taxes or imposing fines.

Credentials

Oregon Senate Member (2007-2021)

Manager of Aeronautics Division of the Oregon State Department of Transportation (1993-1998)

Oregon House of Representatives (2001-2005)

Board of Oregon Health and Science University Foundation

Former Director of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Notable endorsements

State Sen. Lee Beyer (D)

Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett (D)

Former State Sen. & Chair of Oregon Democratic Party Margaret Carter (D)

State Sen. Brian Boquist (former R now I)

Astoria Mayor Willis Vandusen (R)

Former State Rep. and 2018 GOP Governor nominee Knute Buehler (former R now I)

Former State Labor Commissioner Jack Roberts (R)

Controversies

Despite previously being labeled a climate denier, Johnson “believe[s] climate change is real. I believe some of the solutions put forth by the legislature are not the right solutions to the right problems.”

In 2007 former Governor John Kitzhaber sent an Op-ed to the Oregonian in support of Johnson, and some questioned their decision not to print it.

There’s a big question mark around the endorsements and funding of Johnson, as it hasn’t been made public by the campaign. Some donors with the Republican Party are choosing to back Johnson as an alternative to the Democratic candidates, but it’s unclear to what extent this is happening as a result of the lack of transparency.

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PPS Lifts District-Wide Mask Mandate In Schools

Students gathered at the PPS district building to protest the school mask mandate being made optional. Many of these students feel that taking off masks in school at this point in the pandemic is unsafe. Photo by Avani Stevens-Rose.

Starting Saturday, March 12, Oregon lifted the state-wide mask mandate for the use of masks in indoor public places, including schools. Masks will still be required in special settings such as public transportation and healthcare environments. Following suit, Portland Public Schools (PPS) will lift their mask mandate in schools as of Monday, March 14. Many Franklin students and staff question whether or not this is the right time in the pandemic to make mask use optional, while others welcome the lifting of the mandate.

State-wide COVID-19 cases are low compared to the last several months, with 378 new cases per day in the week leading up to March 13, 2022, according to the New York Times. In addition, 77.2% of Oregonians have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose as of March 13, per Our World in Data. In Multnomah County, more than 80% have been vaccinated, as of March 14, based on Oregon Health Authority data. However, many still worry about possible exposure through school, which could put immunocompromised members of the Franklin community at risk. 

“Since the beginning of the pandemic we have done everything we’ve been able to do to make sure our schools are following all of the safety guidance out there,” says Elizabeth Thiel, president of the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT). “We did a lot of research on what the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] was recommending for public places and what the Oregon Health Association [OHA] was recommending for public spaces and making sure those standards are kept in our schools.” 

Thiel discussed the district’s and PAT’s desire to keep everyone safe, as well as concerns as to how people will react to the lifted mandate. “I know that teachers, like students and families, have a lot of [strong] feelings about what is the best way to proceed,” she says. “I am nervous about people feeling upset by the rules being less clear, or by being around people without masks if they are not comfortable, so I do feel nervous that this transition may be hard on people.” 

Some staff and students throughout the district and at Franklin have been very vocal about their opposition to the mandate being lifted. To show this, a student walkout took place on Friday, March 11, when students left school and protested at the Portland Public Schools district building in an attempt to keep the district mandate in place. 

“I am not going to take my mask off when the ban is lifted because I believe that it is unsafe and it puts people, especially people who are immunocompromised, at risk unnecessarily and I honestly think that it’s a little selfish to be taking your mask off when there are so many people that it could hurt,” says Franklin junior Fina Sabatini, who participated in the walkout. Sabatini also expressed concerns about the passing period between classes at Franklin with unmasked students in the hallways. “I feel like I am going to be late to class because I am going to be avoiding passing periods,” says Sabatini.

Sabatini is not the only student with concerns about the mandate being lifted. Franklin senior Shala Santa Cruz Krigbaum also plans to keep their mask on and worries what will happen at school when the mandate is lifted. “What makes me uncomfortable is seeing people who aren’t wearing masks anymore demean people who are continuing to wear them. I want to be able to go to school and not get shamed for being extra careful,” says Santa Cruz Krigbaum. “Already I’ve had people snicker about me and others continuing to wear a mask.”

On the other hand, there are many individuals who plan on removing their masks. “I intend to take my mask off starting March 14. I may choose to wear my mask if I am leaning in close to students, especially if they have a mask on, and especially the first week the mandate is lifted—to ease the transition for students,” says a Franklin teacher who has requested to stay anonymous.

“I feel safe taking my mask off, and my knowledge of COVID indicates that the probability of me passing it on to others is extremely low. We cannot wear masks forever … it’s time to have the option of taking them off,” adds the teacher. “If students or teachers feel unsafe or uncomfortable, then public education may not be a good setting for them at this time. However, when sick, I believe students and teachers should stay home and wear a mask for a few days after their return.”

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John Lewis Voting Rights Act Dead on Senate Floor

Voters in line for a polling station. The accessibility and comfort of voting lines has been a major target of anti-voting legislature. Illustration by Sophie Locker.

On Aug. 24, 2021, the US House of Representatives passed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Introduced to the House by Alabama’s 7th District’s Democrat Rep. Terri Sewell, the Act was an attempt to revitalize the gutted Voting Rights Act of 1965, allowing the federal government to vet for racism when states change their voting laws. All House Democrats voted for the Bill; all House Republicans but one voted against. 

On Nov. 3, 2021, the bill failed to pass the Senate after falling short of the 60 votes it needed to invoke cloture and bypass the filibuster.

In order to understand the significance of this failure, one first needs to understand the history it sits atop. Brian Halberg, who teaches law and history at Franklin High School, spoke about the USA’s long history of voter suppression: “You had states that were able to, for decade upon decade in the Jim Crow era, use the power of the state to disenfranchise, marginalize, and discriminate against voters of color,” he says. “You have the use of all the mechanisms of state power through and up until the work and the advocacy of the civil rights era to forcibly deny people the right to vote.” 

It’s important to note that these tactics were still prevalent in the years following the 15th Amendment’s protection of the right to vote regardless of race. Seemingly, when it comes to voter suppression, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Though the 15th Amendment is a roadblock to any law seeking to explicitly disenfranchise voters of color, many states found subtler ways to target Black voters—namely through things like grandfather clauses, literacy tests, and poll taxes, all of which were race-neutral on paper but served to keep the vote out of the hands of these historically marginalized communities. “How Southern states were able to do that,” Halberg continues, “is they had a law that they designed with a goal of attacking and disenfranchising African American voters in Southern states. And they target so that it would hit these groups, and they evaded and dodged around the wording, but their intent was always clear.” These laws were highly successful. By a Library of Congress estimate, before 1965—almost 95 years after the ratification of the 15th Amendment—only 23% of Black adults nationally were registered to vote. 

The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was only made possible through decades of Black activists’ work, sought to address this. It banned the use of literacy tests, allowed the US attorney general to investigate the use of poll taxes, and, perhaps most importantly, allowed for federal oversight of states with histories of racist voter discrimination. In practice, this made the 15th Amendment enforceable for the first time.

 “[These states] had to, under that act, get pre-approval from, among other places, the Justice Department before they could change congressional boundaries or before they could change how voting rules are applied in these states,” Halberg explains. Through these preclearance requirements, the federal government now had the power to actually examine the voting practices of the states, creating a layer of scrutiny with the potential to repair some of the Jim Crow era’s discrepancies in voting access. By the aforementioned Library of Congress estimate, by 1969 the number of registered Black adults had leapt to 61%.

However, this changed with the Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder (2013). The case began with Shelby County, Alabama, filing a suit in district court stating that sections 5 and 4(b) of the 1965 Voting Rights Act were unconstitutional, which is where preclearance requirements reside. The district court ruled against Shelby County, but the county was eventually able to bring their case before the Supreme Court. Its eventual ruling was narrowly in favor of Shelby County: in a 5-4 decision, it concluded that these sections were, in fact, in violation of the Constitution. In its majority opinion the Court stated that the conditions of discrimination in these states were no longer sufficient to justify or necessitate the restrictions, thereby removing from the law preclearance requirements. It also singled out the formula used to distinguish which states fall under these requirements as outdated and in need of federal review. It’s difficult to say whether this described shift in voting conditions is a product of the Act’s success or obsolescence. That question is being tested as states alter their voting laws in the aftermath of Shelby County

What is clear, though, is that this removal has rendered the Voting Rights Act of 1965 significantly defanged. Without the ability to examine and alter the voting laws of historically discriminatory states, the Act’s anti-discriminatory provisions become near-impossible to enforce. “If, you know, Georgia, for example, wants now to pass a law that eliminates or changes the number of places in which people in the county can go and vote or the hours in which they can vote, now they just need to pass the law under the rules of the Georgia State Constitution,” explains Halberg. “Before Shelby they would have had to prove in part to the Justice Department that the impact of that law would not have, either intentionally or by effect, a discriminatory impact.” Though all states are still bound by the 15th Amendment, there’s now little potential for accountability when it comes to these workaround discriminatory laws.

The general point of opposition for Republicans when it comes to national voting rights legislation, both in Shelby County and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act’s passage, is that such regulations are an undue attempt to federalize the right of states to regulate their own elections. This idea isn’t without credence: Article 1, Section 4 of the US Constitution does grant states the power to prescribe the “time, place, and manner,” of their elections. However, the same article does also state that the federal government has the power to create and alter these laws when concerning federal elections, which was previously held as sufficient to implement all provisions of the the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  As in many Federalist systems, where exactly these powers lie between the state and federal governments is not entirely clear. There is the implication within the Constitution that the federal government has every right to impact national voting law, but the Supreme Court has held in its constitutional interpretation as of Shelby that this power is not all-reaching. 

The significance of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, then, was in part that it attempted to reinstate the preclearance requirements discarded by Shelby County. A major provision of the bill was the establishment of new criteria to determine which states require preclearance for voting laws, giving states the option to obtain preclearance through either the Department of Justice or the U.S. District Court. Specifically, it set numerical criteria for the number and manner of voting rights violations that may occur in a given state during the past 25 years before it becomes subject to federal pre-approval.

The near-unanimous Democratic support and Republican opposition of this bill is in line with an increasingly strong trend in recent years. Following in the footsteps of former President Donald Trump’s numerous allegations of widespread voter fraud in the 2021, a number of conservative states have begun to put in place increasingly restrictive voting laws, arguing that it will preserve election integrity. For example, as of 2021 people can be charged under Georgia law for giving out water or snacks to people standing in line at polls. A temporarily blocked 2021 Texas bill attempted to ban drive-thru and overnight early voting and made it a state felony for election officials to encourage mail-in voting. According to a roundup by the Brennan Center, a law and public policy oriented nonprofit associated with New York University, between the beginning of 2022 and January 14, 2022, “at least 27 states have introduced, pre-filed, or carried over 250 bills with restrictive provisions.” That’s in proportion to the 32 states who have done the same with over 399 bills aiming to expand voting access. Mail-in voting has been particularly targeted, with many bills attempting to significantly increase the requirements to do so, something that disproportionately affects low income or working class people who struggle to make it to increasingly sparse polling stations. 

For the first time in its history, the United States has been classified as a “backsliding” democracy by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance’s annual report on the Global State of Democracy. This degradation of US democratic systems is not without potential solutions, but the current state of partisan standstill on voting rights issues makes the viability of any such measures significantly more of an unknown. Coming up on the 2022 midterm elections, the choice is in the hands of the people to get involved in their representation or simply wait and see what comes of this strenuous time in American voting law.

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Future of Tubman School Uncertain; ODOT Attempts to Work Around Roadblocks

For years, a proposed freeway expansion plan has sparked many questions about its effect on the Albina neighborhood, and more specifically the students of Harriet Tubman Middle School. In the past few months, multiple setbacks have come to pass, barring the plan from immediate implementation. But the fate of Tubman is still up in the air; the only thing that’s clear is that it won’t displace another school community. 

In 2017, a proposal called the “Rose Quarter Improvement Project” was released by Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). It’s part of ODOT’s freeway expansion plan to expand Interstate 5. The project proposes the widening of the freeway, which runs directly next to Harriet Tubman Middle School. The plan has been debated and rewritten multiple times throughout the years.

A major issue with the proposed plan is that it expands the freeway even closer to Tubman Middle School. Many climate activists and school community members actively oppose the plan for this reason, many parents protesting that the freeway expansion would put children even more at risk from breathing in toxic fumes radiating off the freeway. Even without the freeway expansion, the school has faced poor air quality issues in the past few years. A study conducted by Portland State University in 2018 concluded that the school had elevated levels of air pollutants in comparison to other parts of the neighborhood, depending on meteorology and time of day. 

Adah Crandall is a teen activist, an advocate against freeway expansion, and a member of the groups Sunrise Movement PDX and No More Freeways, both integral in the local fight against the project. She also has a personal connection to the issue, as she attended Tubman Middle School. 

“It was pretty scary to be a student [at Tubman],” she says. “You would walk outside to recess and there would be a field and a playground and then right next to it is this giant freeway.” She explains that in order to counter the effects of the toxic fumes radiating from the road, Portland Public Schools (PPS) spent $10 million to install an air filtration system into the school. 

“Imagine what a school district could do with $10 million if they weren’t trying to meet students’ basic needs to clean air,” adds Crandall. 

Her biggest critique of the plan is that it likely won’t come to pass, and if it does, it won’t reduce congestion, which is the whole point of it. 

“[ODOT] is saying that adding more lanes is going to reduce traffic, which has been proven again and again and again to not work.” She also speaks on the multiple lawsuits and lack of funding that have been hindering ODOT from carrying out the project. “They’re operating as if the project is completely inevitable, which it’s not. ODOT has tricked [PPS] essentially because the actual likelihood of the Rose Quarter Expansion happening is just getting [less and less].” 

In terms of the location of the school, Crandall supports whatever choice the current Tubman families and community wish to make, but she is adamant that if the school moves it should not displace other students and that the state should fully fund it. 

“I personally would like to see Tubman kept where it is because I don’t think it’s fair for students to have to move to accommodate additional freeway lanes,” she says. “But if this is an opportunity to move students away from pollution, it should be taken, but on the condition that [Tubman] is working on their own timeline and not on ODOT’s timeline.” 

She reiterates that the decision should be made by the community, for the community, and not rushed to fit with the project timeline: “If PPS is deciding to move Tubman, it should be because that is what the community wants them to do and what’s best for the community, not because it’s most convenient to ODOT.” 

One recent plan to accommodate the freeway expansion was to relocate Tubman School to the campus of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, effectively displacing the pre-existing school community there. However, mass public outrage and protest from MLK School community members and others resulted in PPS officially shutting down the idea. 

On Jan. 28, 2022, PPS released a statement about the future of Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. 

“As plans are underway to widen the Interstate 5 freeway—moving even closer to the current site of Harriet Tubman Middle School—this project will increase the significant negative impacts on the Harriet Tubman School Community,” it acknowledged. Later in the letter they shared what most people assumed as plans to keep MLK School as is: “…as we prepare for additional community discussions, we are sharing that we agree that this future middle school should enhance—and not displace—existing school communities in the Albina neighborhood.”

Gary Hollands, Chair of the Facilities and Operations Committee of the PPS Board of Education, reiterated that PPS has no say in the logistics of the freeway project, just on the impacts to the schools. He mentioned steps moving forward, stating that “we’ve been reaching out to specific communities that have been most affected by [the proposal].”

Hollands emphasizes the importance of making the best choice for the students, though most plans include moving Tubman to continue with the expansion. “There’s an environmental issue with our kids in middle school that we need to alleviate. So our goal is to move, mark, relocate Tubman School to a better environment friendly area.” 

However, PPS’s statement is not the only new update on this project. On Jan. 19, 2022, federal officials directed ODOT to complete an environmental impact statement in order to regain approval for beginning construction. This new statement will push the project back by at least five to six months, according to an ODOT official, and will add to the overall cost. 

Tubman and MLK are both located in the Albina neighborhood of North Portland. Historical conflict around the freeway in the Albina neighborhood is complex. The original construction of the freeway many years ago tore into and divided the area, a thriving Black neighborhood. 

In a statement from their website, Albina Vision Trust (AVT), a local organization, states their concern with the new project: “[Albina neighborhood] is special. lt is a place where the racial inequity of urban renewal came, then came again, and again. Promises were made and broken. Black people and immigrants were displaced. Wealth was taken.The construction of lnterstate 5 (l-5) was central to this unjust history and any future investment in the area should strive to repair the damage done…” 

Speaking specifically to the issue of the school, the statement says; “…Harriet Tubman Middle School and the many children of the future who will spend their days in lower Albina will forever be impacted by unsafe surface routes and elevated emissions. AVT advocates that future highway plans prioritize children and connect neighborhoods.”

A new piece of the plan proposes a “Hybrid Option 3” which, in theory, prioritizes “revitalizing the Albina District.” It includes adding a much larger freeway cap than originally planned, essentially creating a tunnel upon which new development can be made. Many people and groups support this idea, Governor Kate Brown included, in her push for the project team to follow through with this option rather than the original plan.

“It is pretty nonsensical that ODOT is claiming that expanding the freeway is restorative justice for the Albina neighborhood when the original construction of I-5 is what displaced people in the first place,” states Crandall. She supports the freeway cap to bridge the divide in the community, but not the construction of additional lanes. 

“The groups I’m in fully support Albina Vision Trust’s vision and capping the freeway, but capping the freeway can be done without expanding it and worsening the pollution.” She explains that the cap would help heal the divisions of the neighborhood and foster growth. “ODOT has a history of racist planning when it comes to their freeway expansions and this is no different from that. They have a lot more money to spend on PR making it look like restorative justice this time, but ultimately, it’s following the same pattern that they followed for decades.” 

As of Feb. 14, ODOT must re-budget and rethink some of the logistics of the plan, as well as complete a new environmental impact test. If approved, it is set to begin implementation in 2023. 

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Fraudulent Covid-19 Testing Sites Raise the Question: Am I Actually Covid Free?

The recently shut down Center for Covid Control testing site in Johnson Creek. The COVID-19 testing hut is in the middle of the Johnson Creek Market parking lot next to the Hot Bikini Brew. Photo by Maya Bryant

On Jan. 22, 2022, the Federal Bureau of Investigations raided the Center for Covid Control (CCC), following concerns around the United States about COVID-19 testing site schemes. 

The CCC, an Illinois-based company, had been privately operating 300 COVID-19 testing sites around the country, with three in Portland and two in Salem. 

Aleya Siyaj, CEO of the CCC, opened the private company in December and previously founded BullsEye Axe Lounge, an axe throwing lounge with a party atmosphere, according to LinkedIn. 

Siyaj’s LinkedIn profile does not connect her to the CCC. Based on an article from Newsweek published on Jan. 13, her LinkedIn previously did.

The widely recognized company announced their indefinite pause on operations to start January 14, 2022 just two days after the Oregon Attorney General, Ellen Rosenblum, released a statement to the press saying, “[We are] working with OHA [Oregon Health Authority] to ensure testing sites are in compliance with state laws…” This statement was part of a confirmation of the investigation into the CCC.

Washington, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Minnesota have, along with the Oregon Attorney General, filed civil investigations into the CCC. 

The CCC website describes the shut down as a way to “…train additional staff on sample collection and handling, customer service and communications best practices, as well as compliance with regulatory guidelines.”

The Center for Covid Control did not respond to a request from The Franklin Post for a statement. 

Kristina Edmunson, the Communications Director with the Department of Justice (DOJ), wrote in an email that “the Oregon Department of Justice has an ongoing civil investigation into the Center for Covid Control for violations of Oregon’s Unfair Trade Practices Act.”

In a briefing from the Oregon Legislature, it is stated that the Oregon Unfair Trade Practices Act is “…one tool consumers can use to recover damages that occur as a result of deceptive sales or business practices.”

The investigations were initiated when a woman reported not receiving her COVID-19 results from a CCC testing pop-up site and later becoming suspicious of a scam. 

Members of the Franklin High School community have fallen victim to the CCC pop-up sites as well. 

David Jaynes, Girls Varsity Basketball Head Coach at Franklin High School, received a COVID-19 test from CCC himself. “I had a couple players [on the Girls Basketball Team] test positive for COVID and I wanted to get a quick test and provide testing opportunities to the players,” he said.

Jaynes got his COVID-19 test at the Johnson Creek location. “You had to wait in one line to get the tests, and then you went back to your car and took the test yourself, and then you had to turn the results into the guy in a ‘hut.’ That was kind of it, I didn’t think anything of it,” said Jaynes. 

Jaynes returned to this CCC pop-up once more and referred multiple players on the team to the site because of the availability of appointments and quick process. 

Jaynes has received other tests outside of the CCC pop-up sites. “I think it was a lot more professionally done [at the non-CCC sites]” said Jaynes. “It was kind of janky at the CCC.”

Jaynes continued, “The people at the other sites were in hazmat suits and wearing gloves [unlike at the CCC site]. They had a whole procedure on how you did it and they administered the test for you.”

Nell Rafalovich is the Providence Virtual Sick Clinic Medical Director. Rafalovich explains how Providence avoids taking part in suspicious COVID-19 testing practices: “There is no room for interpretation and everything is very streamlined. It is due to these strict guidelines that we have implemented that make any deviations obvious and easily brought to our attention for immediate correction.” 

“When we heard the news about fraudulent testing sites, we were appalled,” wrote an Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) spokesperson. “Not only is such fraud illegal, it is also immoral and unethical.”

People are seeking trust in systems to keep their communities safe. Fraudulent sites like this one discourage communities from getting tested, which makes COVID-19 statistics an inaccurate portrayal of who actually has COVID-19.

The OHSU spokesperson said, “Fortunately, OHSU and other recognizable health care providers will continue to provide authorized, reliable COVID tests for the community.” The OHSU website is a place to find accurate information on COVID-19 testing. 

The OHSU spokesperson addresses how a COVID-19 test site is deemed legitimate, such as the ones provided by OHSU. “All testing sites in Oregon must have a CLIA certificate, have notified Oregon CLIA that they are functioning as a testing site in Oregon, and are required to report to the Oregon Health Authority or local public health authorities.”

CLIA stands for, “Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments,” and it is unknown if the CCC retains or retained one. 

The OHSU spokesperson concluded, “When information is quickly evolving and the stakes are high for people’s personal health and well being, it is essential that community members have access to trustworthy information and procedures.”

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PPS Official Sends Email Accusing Teachers of Planning “Sick-Outs”

Sharon Reese, Chief of Human Resources for Portland Public Schools (PPS), sent an email to teachers about the legality of planning sick calls together on the night of Wednesday, Jan. 12, against the guidance of members of the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT), the district’s teachers union. The response has led to an outcry from teachers and members of the PAT about the timing and the sensitivity of the message. One teacher suggested that Reese send an email to PAT members apologizing for the email.

“It is discouraging to have to send this message to all staff when the vast majority are showing up as you can and taking approved leave when you need to do so,” wrote the official, “but we are getting regular reports of educators being asked by colleagues to call-in sick [often referred to as a “sick-out”] with the intention of causing the district to close schools.”

Before the email went to teachers, it was sent to PAT members for their advice. PAT President Elizabeth Thiel “let the district know that if their attention was to be supportive of educators, this would do the opposite,” adding that “…if you have a student who you believe broke a rule, you go directly to that student and find out the truth. You don’t put the entire classroom on blast or accuse everybody of doing something.” The district chose to send teachers the message anyway.

Multiple teachers at Cleveland were gauging interest in a potential sick-out before the school moved to temporary distance learning (TDL), according to reports from teachers in a Jan. 11 article by Portland Monthly. One anonymous teacher at Franklin said that they’d “heard rumors” about sick-outs at some schools, but that it had not been confirmed. “Nobody’s communicating about sickouts,” said another teacher.

“I cannot speak to the actions or words of an individual person,” says Thiel, “[but] I know as a union, we absolutely have not coordinated sick-outs.” She adds that the PAT has “encouraged people to use their leave appropriately under the guidelines of the Oregon Health Authority [OHA] and stay home if [they] have symptoms of COVID.” 

“Portland Public Schools is actively looking into the incidents referenced in the email to PAT educators and cannot share more detailed information at this time,” wrote PPS Chief of Staff Jonathan Garcia in a statement within nine days of the email being sent when reached for comment by the Franklin Post.

“What I can’t comment on are some limited investigations where there might be instances where there was some level of staff organization,” said PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero in an interview with OPB on Jan. 24. “I don’t think that’s the general norm for any patterns of staff absences that we see. It’s important that all of our employees understand some of the contractual obligations in that area.”

Teachers in other districts have refused on a large scale to go to school until safety measures are improved. In Chicago, schools moved to distance learning for multiple days due to resistance from the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). Only 10% of teachers in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) went to school on Jan. 5 after a union vote against in-person schooling, and 20% of teachers in San Francisco’s largest district were absent for a Jan. 6 sick-out. “Our expectation is for schools to be open full-time for students for in-person learning,” stated US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a Jan. 2 Fox News Sunday interview.

On Jan. 13, less than 24 hours after the email was sent, Franklin closed its campus and moved to distance learning until Jan. 21. The conflict over sick-outs has come as schools attempt to stay open in the face of rising COVID cases.

Outbreaks in many schools have led to low attendance across the board, with 82.13% district-wide as of Jan. 10, according to data provided by a school official. Franklin’s attendance before the move to distance learning was even lower, at 72.13%. One teacher reported having a drop from more than 90% attendance before the wave to just over half a week later. Students have quarantined for a variety of reasons, often after learning of a potential exposure to the virus. Those students need to be able to keep up with the classes they’re missing, especially at the end of the semester, which has led to some challenges for teachers.

“I’m now … on my, like, third plan for the final assessment for [one of my] classes … I’ve had to change what feels like every week,” said one teacher before the shift to distance learning. “[This] is stressful for me and also feels bad because it’s, I’m sure, stressful for my students as well.” Students and teachers throughout the district worked not knowing if they would return the next day during the January surge of the Omicron variant, when the email was sent.

Transmission within schools has been difficult to measure. However, some teachers are concerned about the risk of transmission in some at-school contexts, especially lunch. Eating while masked is difficult, and during the cooler winter, students have moved inside to eat. “I’d be happy to report to schools if there’s a small group of … students that have all tested negative on an antigen test that day, and they need one on one help to get through the end of the semester,” said one Franklin teacher. “But that’s entirely different than having 2,000 unmasked students on campus at exactly the same time for lunch.”

Also included in the email was a passage about teachers using paid time for union activities. “While we respect your right to support your union, such support should not occur during work time unless you have prior approval,” reads the email. “As a professional educator, you are expected to work your full contractual day.”

“I do not know what [PPS is] referring to when they say that,” says Thiel, “…but what I’ve heard from a lot of educators was outrage, at a time when educators are working… 20 additional hours a week.”

According to the contract signed between PPS and the PAT, the workweek for teachers is just under eight hours per day, five days per week, during the school year. However, multiple teachers said that in recent weeks, they have been working well over eight hours per day. One said that they’ve been arriving at work more than an hour early on many days this school year. This is in addition to the typical activities that take place during the school year and over the summer.

While the Omicron variant is more contagious than its predecessors, evidence suggests that it may be less deadly to those who get it. In South Africa, where the variant first spread, less than 5% of all deaths related to the virus have been connected to the Omicron variant.

PPS was unable to schedule an interview by the article’s publication date.

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Federal Program Increases Accessibility of COVID-19 Rapid Tests 

A rapid test, provided by the federal program. Accessibility of COVID-19 rapid tests has expanded in the last month, with options at pharmacies, schools, and community centers. Photo by Luke Ramsey.

A federal program was launched on Wednesday, Jan. 19, which allows every US home to order four free COVID-19 rapid antigen tests. Instructions to order these test kits can be found at the website, covidtests.gov, in English, Spanish, or Chinese. Shipping is estimated to take between seven and 12 days. 

According to a White House Background Press Call on Jan. 14, this program was designed to allow households to stockpile rapid tests for the coming months, in addition to other testing resources. As of now, it is not designed to be a frequently occurring program, and every household is strictly limited to four test kits. 

For those who use all of the tests they order, “we hope that they can access other ways to get tested,” said a senior administration official during the teleconference. This includes “through pharmacies and online…20,000 free testing sites…[and] for those that are patients of community health centers, free testing and pick-up at community health centers.” 

Testing sites have been notoriously scarce during the last few months with the Omicron surge. Despite the White House advertising “20,000 free testing sites” around the country, finding them and making appointments can be difficult. At-home tests, sold at pharmacies and health centers alike, have been difficult to find as well. However, says a Walgreens associate, rapid test shipments delivered on Saturdays have been lasting the whole week. At the height of the Omicron outbreak, they had been selling out the day of restocking. As cases have decreased steadily since the end of January, the surge in demand for rapid tests has calmed.

As for the cost of said rapid tests, the White House has mandated that all private and public insurers reimburse patrons who buy any rapid test. For those without insurance, in the next three months rapid tests should cost “up to 35 percent less starting by the end of this week,” according to the White House website. The website’s message has not changed since at least Jan. 22. Additionally, “25 million free at-home rapid tests [will be delivered] to 1,400 community health centers and hundreds of food banks.”

The CDC and other health organizations recommend taking two rapid tests, spaced within three days of each other, to ensure maximum test effectiveness. If symptoms persist between tests, observe proper quarantine protocols; but without symptoms or a positive test, isolation is not recommended. This policy is due to possible development of symptoms and increase in viral load rather than high rates of false negatives or false positives, says Franklin school nurse Kay Manley. Because of this, tests work best when the subject is symptomatic. However, evidence suggests that antigen tests have lower levels of sensitivity than recommended by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), especially in children, according to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. This means that the tests’ ability to correctly identify positive cases is lower than ideal, resulting in more false negatives. 

After being exposed, Portland Public School (PPS) guidelines recommend waiting until the fifth day to perform a test, unless symptoms are developed. If the student is not symptomatic, they do not need to quarantine from school; individual policies may vary by workplace. However, if the student tests negative for COVID-19 but remains symptomatic, they should isolate at home until symptoms stop.

At school, rapid tests are easily accessible for symptomatic students. Students who develop symptoms while at school can go to the school nurse, located in room M-133, for a rapid antigen test. For those who develop symptoms outside of school, the student health clinic books appointments for rapid testing, held from 1:20 until 1:40 from Monday through Friday, usually testing three to four people per day. They can be reached at (503) 988-3370. After calling for an appointment, a clinic nurse will ask questions to determine the best course of action, and ultimately schedule the appointment based on that information. Availability of appointments range from same-day to next-day. 

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Franklin Talks: How Franklin High School is Normalizing Talking About Race

Franklin High School students gather to talk about race in weight training class. December 8, 2021 marks the first of four sessions about race called Franklin Talks.
Photo by Luke Ramsey 

For the first time in its history, Franklin High School ran its Franklin Talks program, an hour-long discussion surrounding racial equity that took place in classrooms throughout the school, on December 8, 2021.

In the 2021 Successful Schools Survey, Portland Public Schools (PPS) students were asked to reflect on their experiences talking about race at school. Only 45 percent of Franklin High School students reported that they are encouraged to think more deeply about race-related topics, while the district response averaged 59 percent, according to the PPS website. 

Soon after PPS received the Successful Schools Survey results, Franklin Talks was established by counselors, the district, and Dean of Students (also known by her title of Climate and Equity Coach) Julie Palmer to encourage critical conversations about race in the classroom. 

Palmer, who is black, explains how Franklin has molded the district’s directive for conversations about race into their own: “Last year the district decided that counselors needed to be more engaged in racial equity work and they were asked to deliver two of four pre-created lessons about race and racism.” Counselors realized that due to Franklin’s 2,000-student body, the district directive would be a bigger task than they could tackle with the general district lessons. “Our counselors felt uncomfortable just taking these lessons that someone else made and plopping them down into a lesson,” Palmer said. The counselors and Palmer worked instead to create relevant discussions for the Franklin community. 

Franklin High School has completed one of the four 90 minute sessions that will be facilitated throughout the year. Palmer explains, “The first [Franklin Talks session] was really fundamental, [discussing] why we were doing this, talking about some tools like the [Courageous Conversations] Compass and understanding the emotional part of it, the belief part of it and the action part of who we are and what we do.” The February 16 session will focus on Racial Bias, March 14 will focus on Racism, and lastly May 18 will discuss Anti-Racism. “We really hope that the anti-racist session provides a little bit of hope and some opportunities for people to see what they can do,” Palmer says. 

The implementation of Franklin Talks has raised a few questions from students. Some worry that Franklin Talks is only an attempt to fix a discrepancy of statistics. Oliver River Satalitch (12), who is white, was a participant of Franklin Talks. “Focusing heavily on that [Successful Schools Survey] data has given Franklin…an air of wanting to fix a lag in numbers instead of teaching students how to be empathetic and mindful about race,” they say.

Palmer suggests another explanation for the motivations behind Franklin Talks. “There is a call to action for our communities to be looking at ways to normalize the application of a racial lens across all curriculums,” she says.

Previously, Grant High School started something similar called Race Forward, with Palmer’s help. She says,“They have been doing Race Forward for probably seven years and it has been systematized. It is part of the culture at Grant High School…and it is making an impact.” Students at Franklin High School are hoping that Franklin Talks will be a platform for conversations about race to happen beyond structured time.

Yukpa Wright (12), who is Oglala Lakota and Klamath, is a student at Franklin High School who was nominated to be a co-facilitator for Franklin Talks. Wright and other students are hoping to normalize dialogue about race within broader classroom settings. “As a student of color I have definitely had a lot of awkward experiences in classes because there is no general education built into the classroom community,” says Wright. 

Facilitators of Franklin Talks were made up of different teams. Some classrooms were being led by their classroom teacher, yet others had a student co-facilitator or even Principal Frazier. Not all classrooms got the opportunity to have a student facilitator in their classroom, such as that of River Satalitch who explains how that went for them: “Our conversation felt more like a lecture. It is in the name ‘Franklin Talks,’ but we did not talk, we were talked to.”

Student representation within facilitators sets a precedent for the understanding that students find this racial equity work important too. Seeing white staff and students be vulnerable is important as well. Palmer says, “It is so impactful for white people to see other white people being vulnerable owning their role, owning their understanding of their role of race in every institution.” 

Franklin Talks may be a work in progress, as many racial justice initiatives are. But it is a stepping stone to a more inclusive culture that holds space for courageous conversations. Palmer says, “We want to cultivate young people who can leave Franklin…and have the ability to appreciate lived experiences that are different from yours.”