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Portland teacher returns to jail
As Portland students returned to school last week, Portland Public Schools special-education teacher Andrew Oshea returned to jail. But Portland Public Schools stopped paying him on Thursday, Aug. 31, nearly a month after the Portland Tribune first highlighted his case.
Oshea's Monday, Aug. 28 arrest for probation violations in Hood River marks the longtime educator's sixth trip to county jail since Portland Public Schools put him on paid administrative leave nearly two years ago — and raises fresh questions about the beleaguered district's ability to hold the line on teacher misconduct.
It comes as school leaders, fresh off their Aug. 11 announcement that Guadalupe Guerrero of San Francisco would be PPS's next superintendent, have vowed to restore transparency and accountability at the district.
"We're a public institution, we're public officials, we're public employees," Julia Brim-Edwards, chairwoman of the school board, said at an Aug. 29 public meeting. "The work we do should be public."
Oshea's case illustrates how far they'll have to come.
For months, Oregon's largest district shielded the drawn-out affair from public scrutiny by refusing to obey a March order from the Multnomah County district attorney to release the names of PPS teachers on paid administrative leave, including Oshea.
Brim-Edwards, who took office on July 1, said Friday that PPS wasn't ready to change its position, despite public vows to be more open.
PPS has reason to be shy about Oshea's prolonged stay on the list.
Since November 2015, when the district put 46-year-old Oshea on leave for an on-the-job incident that officials decline to describe publicly, Oshea has pleaded guilty to six off-duty misdemeanor crimes in Deschutes and Hood River counties and spent a combined total of 32 work days in jail, in Bend and The Dalles, all while drawing a $75,725 annual salary and benefits, school and law enforcement records show.
His crimes include violating an ex-girlfriend's restraining order, drunk driving, domestic violence and breaking the terms of his probation. In one such instance, on Oct. 3, 2016, Hood River sheriff's officers accused Oshea of busting a girlfriend's cellphone when she tried to call 911 after a fight, then running over her bicycle with his vehicle to keep her from leaving. Oshea pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault on Oct. 11, 2016.
Last month, interim Superintendent Yousef Awwad called Oshea's case "a priority to resolve in the coming weeks." He blamed "complicated" rules around firing long-serving teachers for the months of inaction. Oshea started working for the district in 1998.
Yet state law offers plenty of options for the district if it wanted to fire Oshea, who is assigned to work at the Holladay Center in Southeast Portland with some of the district's most vulnerable special-education students.
For example, school districts may fire so-called "contract" teachers (Oregon's equivalent of tenured teachers) for "any cause which constitutes grounds for the revocation of such contract teacher's teaching license."
Violating one's probation, as Oshea has been found to have done more than once, is grounds for losing a teaching license in Oregon.
Also, teachers on paid administrative leave are supposed to be able to return to work if asked, and incarceration isn't an excuse for missing the call to duty.
But over the course of almost two years, while Oshea was in and out of jail, no one at PPS appears to have acted on that return-to-work requirement until the Portland Tribune publicized Oshea's case. PPS switched Oshea's employment status from paid leave to unpaid leave only last week.
Portland Public Schools would have to look no further than its own files to find examples of similar cases where leaders acted more quickly to cut ties with a teacher.
On June 4, 2015, PPS administrators suspected then-math-teacher Ian Mandis of being drunk or high at school. They ordered him to submit a urine sample. A month later, police arrested Mandis for driving under the influence of intoxicants. PPS moved to fire him and by Aug. 19, 2015, he resigned, records show. Almost a year later, on May 29, 2016, Mandis robbed a Plaid Pantry at gunpoint, taking $50. Only this summer did the state licensing agency formally revoke his Oregon teaching license.
Why hasn't PPS acted more swiftly?
Administrators still won't say. Spokesman Dave Northfield declined to make available the district lawyer who has overseen the Oshea case for months, Stephanie Harper. "This case is in process, and Stephanie can't talk about it," he wrote in an email.
In Springfield, former middle school teacher Jennifer Crouch is fighting her June 26 firing following a March 3 arrest for DUII and cocaine possession. Her union attorney is arguing that the firing was unfair because the misconduct happened off duty, according to the Register-Guard. "Ms. Crouch made a mistake, which will only make her a better and more effective teacher and citizen," attorney Margaret Olney said in a statement to the newspaper.
Suzanne Cohen, president of the Portland Association of Teachers union, did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did Liz Joffe, Oshea's union attorney.
Oshea, who was being held at the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility as this story went to press, declined to comment for an earlier Tribune story.
The school board has vowed to promote transparency at the district.
"Instead of looking for ways or reasons not to make our work public," Brim-Edwards told colleagues at the Aug. 29 board meeting to discuss a draft public records policy, "we're going to assume our work is public unless there is a very clear and compelling reason why it shouldn't be."
PPS, though, has not backed away from its efforts to shield from public scrutiny the names of other teachers it puts on paid administrative leave.
A lawsuit against the Portland Tribune and parent activist Kim Sordyl to block release of the names is ongoing. As of June, PPS had spent $11,000 on outside counsel on the case, records show.
Asked to explain the clear and compelling reason for the lawsuit, Brim-Edwards declined. "Given this was a case that was advanced under the prior board," she wrote in a statement Friday, "the new board will be scheduling a briefing on the case and the implications this may have on our new draft policy which seeks to make our public records and school district business more transparent and accessible to the community."