Is the Quaker Mascot Offensive? A Franklin High Alumna Says Yes

High schools and colleges across the country have dumped school mascots now deemed offensive. Largely those efforts have focused on mascots that glorify a person or image with racist ties.

But at Franklin High School in Southeast Portland, some would like to ditch the mascot because of its ties to a religion.

For at least 100 years, students at Franklin have been called Quakers, not because Benjamin Franklin counted himself among that group. The Founding Father helped launch the University of Pennsylvania, which uses the nickname Quakers, prompting sports writers in Portland to adopt it as well, so the legend goes.

The Franklin Post student newspaper this month reported that a proposal to change the mascot in time for the school’s move to its newly renovated campus next year has the support of the PTSA.

No other religion has its name as a mascot, says Mia Pisano Yang, an alumna who is also a member of the Religious Society of Friends. She’s pushing for the change.

“We have an opportunity to change that and to cheer for something that reflects the school and that is more appropriate,” she said, according to minutes from the PTSA that paraphrased her remarks.

Murmurs: Racist Invective Smeared at Two Portland-Area Schools

Portland-Area Schools Targets of Racism

The blue bubble of Oregon is not immune to ignorance. This month, before and after Election Day, Portland-area schools were targets of racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic invective. At Lake Oswego High School, administrators on Nov. 1 discovered a Facebook post from a former student encouraging seniors to “create a club called Ku Klux Klub and find every black kid and sacrifice them.” At Reed College on Nov. 12, unknown vandals scrawled messages that included, “The white man is back in power you fucking faggots.”

Carole Smith Disliked Even Before Lead Crisis

A poll released by Portland Public Schools on Nov. 9 shows that former Superintendent Carole Smith was deeply unpopular with Portland voters even before the full weight of the district’s lead crisis crashed down on her. The poll, conducted June 2-6 just as details were emerging about the extent of PPS’s environmental hazards, showed Smith had a favorability rating of 36 percent. The School Board that eventually forced her departure didn’t fare much better, though. It had a favorability rating of just 40 percent, according to the Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates survey of 300 voters. By comparison, Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler notched a 70 percent approval rating, and 74 percent of respondents approved of Gov. Kate Brown’s performance. Teachers enjoyed the most support, with 79 percent approval.

East Portland’s Neighborhood Associations Underfunded

An audit of the city’s Office of Neighborhood Involvement found that East Portland’s neighborhood associations receive dramatically fewer resources per resident from the agency than other parts of the city. The East Portland coalition of neighbors receives $2 per resident while the Central Northeast Neighbors Coalition receives nearly $6 a person, City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero’s staff found. Funding “is based on a historical formula of unknown origin,” and despite years of repeated studies no remedy has been proposed, the audit noted. During the most recent budgeting process, it was decided not to fix the inequity “until the City Council opts to provide more funding for all community-engagement programs. This approach effectively locks current disparities in place,” the audit said. City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who overseas the ONI, responded to the audit with a formal commitment “to develop a long-term strategic plan for a more equitable funding strategy.”

Give!Guide Donations Top $400,000

Willamette Week’s annual Give!Guide is live and accepting donations at giveguide.org. Giving has surpassed $400,000 and 2,000 donors. If you give Nov. 17, you’ll be eligible to win a prize package from the Portland Thorns and Timbers.

Reed College Targeted by Racist, Homophobic, Anti-Semitic Graffiti

Two bathrooms at Reed College’s library were defaced with racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic and pro-Trump graffiti Saturday night.

A spokesman for the Southeast Portland college, Kevin Myers, says the graffiti was found around 9 pm and painted over by 11 pm, but college officials don’t know who committed the vandalism. The college library is open to students and the general public.

Administrators at the liberal arts college sent out a message last night vowing to actively fight intolerance.

“Regardless of who committed this heinous act, such behavior is antithetical to Reed’s mission and values, and will not be tolerated,” they wrote. “Anyone seeking to cause fear or harm to members of the Reed community should expect a vigorous response.”

Racist, Anti-Semitic Statements Rock Lake Oswego High School

A commenter on Lake Oswego High School’s Class of 2017 Facebook page suggested seniors “create a club called Ku Klux Klub and find every black kid and sacrifice them,” according to the Nov. 8 edition of the student newspaper, and for weeks no one challenged the statement.

“What’s worse, the post?” the newspaper asked students, “[O]r the silence that followed?”

Now administrators are grappling with the Nov. 1 discovery of the post, said to have been made by a former student and a separate, earlier incident at the high school, where students were said to have been laughing while photographing a poster in the school cafeteria that depicted Nazi extermination of Jews.

Principal Rollin Dickinson addressed the incidents in a lengthy letter to parents Monday, before President-elect Donald Trump’s victory reportedly set off a spate of racist attacks in Oregon schools and elsewhere.

And Superintendent Heather Beck followed-up with her own extensive response:

On Monday, LOHS Principal Rollin Dickinson sent a message to parents that should be required reading for every parent in our school district. It describes, in unflinching detail, two episodes of racist and anti-Semitic behavior that are shocking, inexcusable, and appalling in their nature.

I do not believe that this behavior is representative of our students or our community, but I am concerned that the students who viewed these postings did not challenge them or immediately report them. Nor do I believe this is a phenomenon exclusive to LOHS, but it is representative of our shortcomings as a community in equipping our students with the empathy to embrace tolerance and stand up to injustice, and the tools to recognize and combat an increasingly coarse culture in the world around them.

We have done a lot of work in our schools over the past two years around building positive school culture, but this is work that is never done; this is an effort that requires constant vigilance and attention on the part of all of us. We will continue this work with renewed focus by engaging in small group conversations with students, bringing in speakers, engaging in professional development, and working together as a community to reject hatefulness and recognize insensitivity.

All students should feel welcome and safe in our schools. I want to conclude this message with an apology to all of those who have been hurt by these incidents. We will collectively address this head on, and prove to ourselves and each other that we are better than this. We cannot allow this story to repeat itself in the future.

As Principal Dickinson said, “What’s at stake is more fundamentally important to our students than anything else we will teach them. In this sense, this is, and really must be, a call to action.”

It will take all of us.

Dr. Heather Beck

Superintendent

Cleveland High Teacher: “I Can’t Unsee What I’ve Witnessed at Those Dances”

Last month, two students from Cleveland High School explained in WW‘s pages why students at the Southeast Portland school had postponed their homecoming dance.

They hoped the break would give the school a chance to address what the students described as a culture of sexual harassment and unwanted groping at school dances going back years.

The latest issue of the school’s student newspaper throws a spotlight on the issue, including with an essay by an IB teacher and longtime chaperone of Cleveland dances who laments, “I can’t unsee what I’ve witnessed at those dances.”

It’s not prudishness guiding her thinking.

“All fours on the floor, hands all over the place,” teacher Anne Dierker writes. “And the grinding. All of the grinding. It’s nowhere I want to be.”

Got five minutes—and an anxious desire to escape the Election Day news cycle? Head over to The Cleveland Clarion for more.

Portland School Board Meets in Group Therapy, Wrestles With Distrust

The Portland School Board elections of May 2015 served as a districtwide referendum on the state of Portland Public Schools, with the election of two new members who signaled interest in ousting then-Superintendent Carole Smith.

Eighteen months later, Smith is gone.

But Tuesday, in a board retreat at PPS headquarters, the seven members of the board revealed lingering fissures over its role in school governance. The retreat, scheduled for four hours, often resembled a group-therapy session, with board member Pam Knowles singling out board member Steve Buel for, in her view, meddling in staff issues and eroding morale and Buel, in return, defending himself by telling Knowles not to put words in his mouth.

“Obviously there are trust issues,”  interim Superintendent Bob McKean told the group. “I get all that.”

But McKean, who serves at the pleasure of the board as it searches for a permanent replacement, also questioned the eagerness of some board members to go around the superintendent to involve themselves in school business.

“It causes the district a great deal of trouble,” said McKean, who added that the board’s role should be to direct the superintendent as whole.

McKean said senior staff spend about a third of their time dealing with requests from board members.

“Why is that?” Buel shot back, alluding to community distrust over the district’s ineffective handling of everything from lead contamination to principal turnover. “Isn’t there a huge reason why?”

He added: “I’d rather do what you’re suggesting, but we’re not able to do that.”

Buel used the example of PPS’s well documented problems with a handful of ineffective principals, saying he wouldn’t have had to get involved if PPS followed through on the problems.

“What would follow-through look like?” Knowles asked, her voice rising in irritation.

In some instances, we’d fire them, Buel said.

“It’s not my job to fire a principal,” Knowles responded.

“Your job is to hire the superintendent,” McKean chimed in, drawing nods from Knowles.

Not surprisingly, the session ended without resolution.

“On the whole, I agree with Steve,” said board member Paul Anthony.

Twenty minutes later, after a brief break for dinner, Knowles directed questions to staff about topics ranging from Russian immersion to early kindergarten. PPS’s Russian immersion program at Kelly Elementary School educates many children from outside of the district, mostly from the David Douglas School District. Yet the building is over capacity.

“Might be something we should look at,” Knowles told Assistant Superintendent Chris Russo.

Two Cleveland High Students Explain The Campaign Against Dance-Floor Groping

Last year, students at Portland’s Cleveland High School made international news after administrators declined to hold a winter formal for the second year in a row over concerns that included dance-floor grinding. This year, students flipped the Footloose script, deciding to postpone a homecoming dance set for Oct. 13 because students reported that groping at school dances made them feel unsafe.

This week, WW talked to two seniors from Cleveland’s student leadership who were part of the decision, Ashley Lytle and Carlin MacMillan, both 17. They talked about their efforts to address a school climate that has, in the past, allowed sexual harassment to persist—and the timing of their conversation amid a presidential election that has brought the subject of unwanted grabbing to the fore.

WW: How did students decide to postpone the homecoming dance?
Ashley Lytle: In leadership class, we were asked, “Are you guys going to the dance?” And most of us said no. That made our leadership teacher [Eric Mirsepassi] say, “OK, we need to look at this. Why aren’t you going?” A lot of us said we didn’t feel safe or comfortable going. He wanted us to have a chance to address some of the issues. The administration agreed, and they decided to give us the control over whether to have it. But we had only two weeks [until homecoming]. So we said, let’s postpone it and try to address this culture and what’s taking place at the dance.

How did students respond?
Carlin MacMillan: It was relatively positive. We had an announcement go out prior to our homecoming assembly saying we’re postponing the dance and that it’s going to be in winter. We alluded to the fact that we’re going to reform it because of sexual assault, harassment and misconduct. A lot of people were in support of the fact that we were facing the issue head-on. It’s a very small percentage of people who are acting irresponsibly. Most of the student body, they go there to have fun.

Has there been any negative response?
Lytle: For every negative response we’ve received, we’ve had so much more support—10 times more positive responses.
Your decision predated the most recent revelations in the presidential election of Trump’s sexual misdeeds, right?
Lytle: Yes, Cleveland is really trying to address these issues this year. Freshmen are taking health classes, and these classes are talking about things related to sexual assault.
MacMillan: It’s not a new conversation, but I’m glad we’re taking the steps to go against it. It’s there, and people know it’s there, but people don’t really talk about it. But it’s happening, and people are uncomfortable at a school event, which is exactly what you don’t want.

Do you think the comments from Trump about assaulting women are helping or hurting your discussion?
MacMillan: Helping. I think it just shows how prevalent the culture is in our society and how much of an issue it actually is. His comments definitely fuel a lot of the conversation around here.

Has his language emboldened classmates to mimic him?
Lytle: No, everything I’ve heard from students is against that. They can’t believe this guy could be our president.

You guys have flipped roles with parents and administrators. How do you feel about that?
MacMillan: When we originally discussed it in our class, we just focused on how many people felt unsafe. We just wanted everyone to feel comfortable because it should be a really fun time. But for a lot of people, it’s not.

What’s your proposal for improving the homecoming dance?
Lytle: We want to address the culture of sexual assault so we want to make a video.
MacMillan: We are planning on linking the buying of tickets to watching this video. Or to buy a ticket you have to show us in some way that you understand the problem. We’re also planning on increasing the number of chaperones, parents and teachers. I don’t know how fun it will be at the dance itself, but I think it will really help.

District Attorney to Portland Public Schools: Get it Together on Records Requests

In an eight-page order issued Monday, Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill strongly rebuked Portland Public Schools for failing to respond to public records requests in timely fashion.

Likening the school district to the troubled Cover Oregon, Underhill wrote that PPS can’t point to problems it created as an explanation for why it can’t fulfill statutorily required duties.

PPS has blamed a lack of adequate staffing on its inability to respond quickly to records requests, which have grown in volume since PPS acknowledged last spring that it failed to safeguard its buildings from lead contamination.

“We accept that with its current staff assigned to handle public records matters PPS cannot respond to these requests more rapidly,” Underhill wrote. “However, that shortfall is the result of policy decisions at PPS and we decline to give them the benefit of those decisions in assessing the reasonableness of their response. It is a well-established principle in the criminal law that police may not create their own exigency in order to justify actions that would otherwise be illegal without the exigency.”

In many ways, the order reads like a summary of PPS’s current state of existence— a state of confusion and delays over everything from grade configurations at primary schools to the reconstruction of its high schools.

It noted, for example, that former Superintendent Carole Smith had issued recommendations to the School Board in July on how to better handle records requests—but offered no sense of urgency for implementing the recommendations.

“These suggestions are commendable and, if implemented, would likely mitigate the present situation,” Underhill wrote. “But, unlike Cover Oregon, PPS has presented no timelines or firm commitments for action.”

PPS spokeswoman Rosie Fiallo says the district knows it must do better.

“We recognize that our current structure and staffing levels are not adequate to carry out the function of responding to public records requests in the timely manner we want to,” Fiallo says, “and addressing that internal operational function is among the priorities of the Interim Superintendent as he looks at other operational restructuring and efficiencies.”

Parents Wait in Frustration as Portland Public Schools Delays Opening Middle Schools

You may have heard: Portland Public Schools has boundary issues.

Some schools have enrollment areas that are too big, while others draw too few students. The enrollment imbalance means that kids at certain schools—typically those with more affluent white students—have more funding and better class offerings.

But after two full years of public meetings, solutions remain elusive. Two weeks ago, interim Superintendent Bob McKean announced he wanted to delay for a year the opening of two middle schools that are key to addressing the variations in school quality on the eastside. He blamed the delay on the district’s lead clean-up and the upcoming construction bond campaign.

Here’s how PPS got to this point—and the chances it can ever accomplish what it says it needs to do.

Weren’t the problems of uneven enrollment considered urgent in 2014?

Yes. Even then, the problems weren’t new.

They trace their origin to a move in 2006 when PPS shuttered many low-performing middle schools and moved grades six through eight to elementary schools, creating K-8 schools. Wealthier, whiter neighborhoods got to keep their middle schools—and the classes in band, ceramics, journalism, foreign languages and computer science that went with them.

One exception to this trend was Beverly Cleary K-8 School in the Grant Park neighborhood of inner Northeast Portland. It’s an example of a K-8 in a well-off neighborhood that managed to cobble together an attractive array of electives for older students. But that success bred problems that made it a poster child for what’s wrong with PPS’s current system. It drew more students, further exacerbating inequity.

Since its conversion to a K-8, Beverly Cleary’s population has grown by 50 percent—it now has at least twice as many students as most other neighborhood schools in grades six through eight, about 100 students per class. By comparison, King K-8 School has just 16 kids in the seventh grade.

To accommodate Beverly Cleary’s explosive growth, the district has spread students across three campuses for three years. Not surprisingly, it’s expensive and complicated for one principal to supervise three buildings, including one that is more than a mile from the main campus.

Dragging out the problem is making it worse. “It’s hugely divisive,” says Beverly Cleary parent Heather Leek. “There are people who don’t talk to each other anymore over this.”

Why does the middle-school delay matter?

For Denise Holtrop, the decision to hold off the middle schools’ opening until 2018-19 is maddening. Her fourth-grader attends Jason Lee K-8 School in Northeast Portland, where administrators say the class sizes in grades six through eight are too small to support an equitable education.

If the district opens nearby Roseway Heights Middle School in 2018-19, as planned now, her child would escape the inequity of Lee’s underfunded K-8. But Holtrop’s not sure she can trust school officials’ promises anymore.

PPS pledged in 2014 to have new districtwide boundaries in place for the 2016-17 school year. That didn’t happen. “We felt change was coming,” she says. “Now I wonder if my child will be going to a middle school.”

And Holtrop isn’t the only parent left wondering whether the district can forge ahead. “It feels like we have to start from scratch every year,” says parent activist Scholle McFarland.

When will Southeast Portland see relief?

PPS needs to reopen Kellogg Middle School on Powell Boulevard to accomplish its recommended shifts in Southeast Portland. But Kellogg has been closed for so long it needs at least $20 million in repairs. That means the district can’t open it until after voters approve a new construction bond, and the earliest that could happen is May 2017. That gives PPS only a year to rebuild Kellogg in time for 2018-19.

“We’re now two years into this process,” says Rita Moore, a parent activist from North Portland. “At this point, there’s no danger of anything happening quickly.”

What are the chances PPS will stick to its current timeline?

The volunteer committee leading the work just went through a major shakeup. It shrunk from 26 people to 17, and 10 of those 17 members are brand new. Several members dropped out of the group, frustrated with its slow pace. One member departed after losing his PPS jobs in the fallout from the district’s lead scandal.

One key staffer, Sarah Singer, who supported the volunteer group, is also leaving the district for a job in the private sector. Yet Jason Trombley, the volunteer who co-chairs the group, says he’s hopeful PPS can adhere to its new 2018-19 timeline. “I’m going to remain optimistic until someone tells me otherwise,” he says.

On a 1-to-10 scale, how confident is he? “Three weeks ago, I was a 4,” he says, “now I’m a 7.”

Murmurs: Irvington Students Boycott Oregon Trail Field Trip

Andy Wiederhorn’s Empire Disappears

One of the final traces of the high-flying career of former Portland financier Andy Wiederhorn disappeared this week as Wiederhorn’s mother, Peggy, surrendered her Southwest Portland condominium to foreclosure. Wiederhorn, who briefly made Wilshire Financial Services one of Portland’s shining stars 15 years ago before serving time in federal prison after the company collapsed, has remade himself as CEO of the Los Angeles-based Fatburger chain. Wiederhorn says his mother has lived in Los Angeles for 20 years and decided to relinquish her unit in the Vista House condos rather than pay her share of building repairs. “It’s a great building,” Wiederhorn said in an email. “But the original design and construction defects have been a pain for the homeowners for years.”

Irvington Students Boycott Oregon Trail Field Trip

Students at Irvington K-8 School in Northeast Portland won’t attend an overnight field trip to study the lives of Oregon pioneers until the education agency that runs the program, the Multnomah Education Service District, revamps curriculum to include the perspectives of Native Americans. On Oct. 18, teachers and parents from Irvington met with MESD officials to complain that the Oregon Trail field trip offered to Portland Public Schools students emphasizes the lives of white settlers, with lessons on sewing and outdoor cooking, but offers no insight on Native American history or broken treaties with Pacific Northwest tribes. Students who previously attended the field trip appear in a YouTube video that describes the trip’s shortcomings. “It’s like giving someone an M&M that doesn’t have all the chocolate in it,” one girl complains about MESD’s incomplete version of Oregon’s history. “It’s just wrong.”

Wingard Defamation Lawsuit Can Go Forward

A defamation lawsuit filed by former state Rep. Matt Wingard (R-Wilsonville) against Oregon Right to Life and the Oregon Family Council over political mailers the groups paid for in the May primary cleared a key hurdle last week in Multnomah County Circuit Court. Judge Adrienne Nelson rejected the defendants’ motion to throw out Wingard’s complaint that the groups falsely characterized his relationship with a former legislative aide. “We’re planning to appeal the judge’s decision,” says Oregon Right to Life executive director Gayle Atteberry.

Burning Man Supplies Sought for Homeless Camps

A Portland artist is gathering donations from Burning Man festivalgoers—seeking unwanted, old or damaged equipment in an effort to provide the homeless with supplies for winter. Noah Mickens, ringmaster for the performance group Wanderlust Circus, is giving the supplies to homeless camps like Right 2 Dream Too. He got the idea after helping campers who were cleared out of the Springwater Corridor in Southeast Portland last month. “Looking at all the tents and camp kitchens and bicycles, it reminded me of Burning Man or an encampment at the Oregon Country Fair,” Mickens says.