Digest: Monday, January 3, 2022

Portland Public Schools return from winter break

Students returned from winter break today, attending classes in person as local COVID-19 numbers predictably rise. Portland Public Schools sent out a message to parents and other community members yesterday (Sunday) at 4:30 p.m. reviewing the district’s plan to maintain in-person learning, focused on testing and vaccinations. Even without the Omicron variant spreading quickly, including among children, we likely would have seen an increase in cases due to the many people traveling and spending time together for the holidays. PPS’ decision to maintain in-person classes in January seems risky at best, especially when other schools around the country are choosing to go remote. Going remote, of course, comes with its own hardships. But as we head into yet another year of this pandemic, school boards need to be considering what a long-term response to COVID looks like. The school system needs far more flexibility than it currently has: Students deserve safe learning environments, as well as access to quality remote learning options (rather than hastily uploaded curriculums) and a real reduction in the inequalities many face in accessing education no matter where it takes place. Budgeting is the obvious place to start, since federal COVID relief funds for schools are tied to maintaining or resuming in-person instruction over any other alternatives.

Perhaps more concerning for the long-term, however, is that PPS’ update on Sunday was its first since December 17. There’s been no news on negotiations between PPS and the Portland Association of Teachers on ways to manage the dropping number of staff working with students and the increasing stress of teaching. 1,400 PPS teachers said that they were considering quitting or taking a leave of absence in a survey completed before winter break. Something’s got to give.

Scott Asphaug to continue as U.S. Attorney for Oregon

Scott Asphaug was initially appointed as interim U.S. Attorney for Oregon February 28, 2021. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland reappointed Asphaug for up to 120 days as the process to appoint a new permanent U.S. Attorney for Oregon continues. Because candidates for the position must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, predicting a timeline for Asphaug’s replacement is difficult. In addition to Asphaug’s 16 years with the U.S. Department of Justice, his resume includes time spent in the Multnomah County Attorney’s Office, as an advisory attorney to the Multnomah County Sheriff, and representing police officers on behalf of the Portland Police Association. (The Multnomah County Attorney’s Office represents the county in legal matters, and is separate and distinct from the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office.) As Asphaug continues to manage the the U.S. Attorney’s office for Oregon, his work history should give us pause: his affiliation with the agencies protestors stood up against seems like an obvious conflict of interest when prosecuting those same protestors, as does his responsibility for enforcing the terms of the Department of Justice’s consent decree against the Portland Police Bureau.

Airbnb will now hide guests’ names during booking process — but just in Oregon

Airbnb guests with names that sound Black have a significantly harder time booking a stay on the site. In order to reduce hosts’ discrimination against Black guests, the site will no longer show guests’ name during the booking process — but only for guests who are based in Oregon. The change is should be rolled out to all Oregon-based users by January 31, 2022. The change is the result of a lawsuit filed by Pat Harrington, Ebony Price, and Carlotta Franklin against Airbnb in 2017. Airbnb agreed to a voluntary settlement with Price and Franklin in 2019 (Harrington died in 2018). It’s unclear why the change is limited to Oregon. In a discussion with The Verge, Airbnb spokesperson Liz DeBold Fusco gave a less-than-clear response: “As part of our ongoing work, we will take any learnings from this process and use them to inform future efforts to fight bias… [and will] continue working with our Hosts and guests, and with civil rights leaders to make our community more inclusive.”

By Thursday Bram

Thursday Bram founded PDX.Vote after making numerous zines, newsletters, and other media about politics in Portland, Oregon. Thursday has also written for publications ranging from Autostraddle.com to Entrepreneur Magazine. You can find more of Thursday's work at ThursdayBram.com.