A small cluster of teachers from the Reynolds School District braved a strong February wind and rallied outside the East County Courthouse at 18480 S.E. Stark St., on Tuesday afternoon to express support for their students and concern about racism and deportation of undocumented people.
Carrying signs that read, "We love and support all our students and families" and other slogans, some members of the district teacher's union marched and made brief speeches.
This is just the latest of many efforts by educators recently to teach and help students and families cope with increased anxiety and questions that have come up after the election of controversial Donald Trump as president.
At the Feb. 14, rally, Stephen Siegel, a special education teacher at Reynolds High, said the teacher's union formed a group called the Social Justice Caucus last fall.
"This is our first attempt at doing some sort of rally event and involving the community," Siegel said of the gathering of about 20 teachers. "This is about issues surrounding social justice not about one political party or one president."
The group has been "seeing firsthand how frightened and worried many of their students and families are now, about everything from refugee bans and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) crackdowns to in-your-face racism," the group said in a notice about the rally.
Siegel said teachers are no longer content to just teach students, but rather are "ready to start fighting for them."
Reynolds High School government and economics teacher Evan Selby said he was at the rally because he lives "out in the Reynolds School District, and this is my community. I stand with the community in the era of Trump."
Siegal noted, "We see ourselves as allies who genuinely care about our students and want to partner with parents and other community groups. East Portland and Rockwood/Gresham in particular have been pretty neglected, and here more than anywhere is where we need to be organized."
The courthouse was targeted by the group because of news reports that ICE agents have showed up at courthouses to sweep up undocumented people in the courthouse for other reasons.
"We aren't clear if it's happened here, but we know that at the downtown courthouse, ICE agents were approaching people and asking them for their papers. Demanding to see people's papers is exactly what happens in police states," Siegel said in a statement.
Most local school boards have passed resolutions reaffirming that schools in their districts are welcoming and safe places for students and their families.
A letter from Gresham-Barlow School District Superintendent Jim Schlachter reiterated district policy.
"The Gresham-Barlow School District recognizes that an inclusive and welcoming environment allows students and families to feel safe, respected, and valued, thus supporting students in achieving their educational objectives," the letter read.
The Reynolds district Board of Directors approved a resolution in December that specifically mentioned ICE and outlined procedures that schools are to follow if agents come to campus. For example, Reynolds schools were directed to have procedures in place if a student's parents or guardians are swept up by ICE and the student is left without supervision.
Schools in East Multnomah County are diverse, but they do not keep track of whether students are documented immigrants.
In another effort, more than 400 teachers from western Oregon, staged a day of workshops on Saturday, Feb. 11, on "Teaching in the Time of Trump."
Nine panelists with varying educational backgrounds and organization affiliations offered perspectives in the hope that teachers might be better able to help students during what they view as long road of hardship under the Trump administration, the Portland Tribune, a sister newspaper of The Outlook, reported.
Portland Association of Teachers Vice President Elizabeth Thiel cheerfully welcomed educators, but quickly turned serious: "(Students are) reading about an immigration ban and building a wall, and they're wondering if they're safe and welcome in their own country … as teachers we have no choice but to respond."