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Oft-jailed special-ed teacher paid by PPS to resign from job
One month after Portland Public Schools put one of its special-education teachers on leave for alleged misconduct, a top district administrator sent an unusually blunt message about him to colleagues.
"Based on the evidence, he is a danger to students," wrote Mary Pearson, the school district's most senior special-education official, on Dec. 1, 2015.
More than two years later, Portland Public Schools has finally cut ties with that teacher, Andrew Oshea — but not before paying him $139,000 to not work for 22 months and an additional $19,326 to resign.
Oshea's story, first reported by the Portland Tribune in August, has some observers scratching their heads over how PPS could ignore a problem teacher for so long.
"It's another example of PPS prioritizing the well-being of adults who work in the system over students," said Virginia La Forte, who lost a bid for a Portland School Board seat last year.
Now, new public records turned over to the Tribune shed additional light on the case. They demonstrate the remarkable extent to which managers internally expressed their desire to be rid of Oshea — and show several unexplained delays that appear to have contributed heavily to his more than two-year stint on paid leave.
Paid time, while in jail
The story of Oshea is all the more astonishing due to the fact that the teacher toggled in and out of Oregon county jails while collecting a PPS salary for not working. In total, Oshea spent 33 work days behind bars — on allegations he violated an ex-girlfriend's restraining order, committed domestic violence assault against another woman, drove drunk and broke the terms of his probation — all while drawing an annual salary of $75,725 plus benefits.
The school district didn't stop paying Oshea until after the Tribune highlighted his case in an Aug. 9, 2017, article — and after Oshea returned to jail on Aug. 28, 2017, his sixth such trip since his leave began on Nov. 3, 2015.
In the future, said new PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero, the district won't allow problem teachers to stay on paid leave indefinitely.
"We're clearing the decks on these cases," Guerrero said.
But the Oshea case shows how far the district must go to fulfill that promise.
Portland Public Schools officials declined to answer specific questions about 47-year-old Oshea, who started working for the district in 1998. Instead, officials issued statements pledging to do better. A spokesman for the district, Dave Northfield, suggested Oshea's was simply a "difficult" case.
"The new PPS superintendent and new school board have made it clear that a top priority is to fairly but efficiently deal with allegations of misconduct," Northfield wrote in a statement.
"The district does not want to see situations where employees are on paid leave for long periods of time. Each case is different, and the employee will often be placed on paid leave while the case is being investigated," he added. "While we can't speak to the specifics of each case, we have had some difficult cases that have taken longer to investigate and resolve than we would like."
Inappropriate use of force
The case against Oshea would seem straightforward.
On Oct. 13, 2015, a Hood River sheriff's deputy arrested Oshea for violating the restraining order sought by an ex-girlfriend who had worked with Oshea at the Pioneer School, PPS's program for high-needs special-education students on Southeast Division Street and 71st Avenue.
Records disclosed this month show administrators weren't only concerned about Oshea's behavior outside school.
On Oct. 29, 2015, Oshea intervened in a dispute between a special-education student and an aide at Pioneer, taking the student to the floor and holding the student there by the student's head, records show. Teachers at Pioneer do occasionally have to restrain students, who can behave aggressively due to their disabilities. But PPS records show administrators believed Oshea had acted with "excessive" and "inappropriate" physical force.
The next day, a mandatory teacher planning day, Oshea didn't show up for work and didn't tell his boss where he was. Administrators took note.
"The teacher who 'pinned' the student head to the ground is experiencing some personal issues lately, incarceration for violating a restraining order, improper use of leave, untruthfulness," human resources administrator Frank Scotto wrote on Oct. 31, 2015, in an internal email.
Long, unexplained delays
Three days later, PPS put Oshea on paid administrative leave.
In nearly 300 pages of partially redacted email correspondence about Oshea's paid leave, no specific hurdles surface to explain why PPS found his situation "difficult." (Oshea declined to be interviewed in August; he didn't respond to more recent requests for comment.)
But the emails do show involvement in the case by Liz Joffe, a teachers' union lawyer working on behalf of Oshea, and periods of inaction by the district lawyer who oversaw the PPS investigation, Stephanie Harper. Harper and Joffe both declined to comment.
Northfield, the district spokesman, says an investigatory meeting with Oshea, a crucial step in any process to fire or discipline a public employee, happened soon after the district put Oshea on leave in 2015. Scotto, the human resources administrator, conducted the district's investigation and held two more meetings with Oshea, records show. He sent Harper an email with his findings on Jan. 29, 2016, three months after the incident at Pioneer.
But Harper elected to have an additional investigatory meeting with Oshea, Northfield said. That didn't happen until Dec. 4, 2017, nearly two years later.
It's impossible to say why Harper acted slowly: In the records it released, the district redacted almost all email messages written by Harper and many additional emails sent to Harper, citing attorney-client privilege.
The unredacted emails, though, suggest Harper left Oshea's boss in the dark.
On May 17, 2016, Pioneer Principal Michael LaFramboise asked Harper for an update: "Where are we at with the issues around Mr. Oshea?"
No response appeared in the records PPS produced.
Around that time, Harper rose to interim general counsel at PPS, after a drinking-water scandal led to the departure of several top administrators, including the superintendent.
Nine months later, the principal obtained a fresh mug shot of Oshea, from a Feb. 2, 2017, arrest in Bend for DUII.
LaFramboise forwarded the arrest record to PPS's human resources office, with a short message: "Does he still work for PPS?"
Harper pledged action. "I'll work on this today," she told colleagues.
Keeping paid leaves a secret
But behind the scenes, Harper was taking steps to obscure Oshea's extended leave from public scrutiny.
On March 20, 2017, the Multnomah County district attorney ordered PPS to make public a list of all employees, including teachers, on paid administrative leave.
At that point, Oshea's long absence was unknown outside Pioneer and the district's central office. Previously, PPS routinely disclosed its list of teachers on paid leave. Last year, however, putting aside the district's longstanding interpretation of Oregon public records law, Harper argued that releasing the list would violate teachers' privacy.
On March 24, 2017, Sean Murray, then the human resources director, emailed Harper asking for information on Oshea. "He has been on paid leave for a long period of time," Murray wrote to Harper.
Three days later, acting on the advice of Harper, PPS told the county district attorney it would sue the Portland Tribune to block the newspaper's request for the paid-leave list. That suit is ongoing, and the list is still secret.
Word about Oshea's paid leave escaped anyway. In August, after the Tribune first wrote about Oshea, PPS officials said they wanted to resolve his case "in the coming weeks."
Instead, PPS allowed further delays.
On Aug. 31, 2017, Oshea's union lawyer canceled a meeting between Oshea and the district set for the next day. Oshea's attorney, Liz Joffe, didn't write in her email to Harper why her client needed to postpone. But records from the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility show he had been in jail on probation violations for four days.
That week, nearly two years after placing him on paid leave, PPS stopped paying Oshea, but it didn't fire him.
Harper, the attorney, resigned from PPS effective Nov. 6, 2017. But PPS brought her back to work, paying her $64.32 an hour so she could keep working on the Oshea case.
Paid leave, then paid to leave
A resolution came, finally, on Dec. 22, when Oshea agreed to quit.
In its separation agreement with Oshea, Portland Public Schools wrote that it would "agree to disagree" with Oshea on whether his conduct disqualified him from working at PPS.
In exchange, Oshea agreed he wouldn't sue PPS for forcing him to resign and that he would never seek employment with the district again.
PPS agreed to pay Oshea an additional $19,326, what Oshea would have collected for fall 2017 had PPS not stopped paying him.
So long as Oshea doesn't seek to work directly with students or children, PPS will provide Oshea's future employers a "neutral" job reference. Julia Brim-Edwards, chair of the PPS board, called the agreement to avoid a lawsuit "prudent."
When the new year arrived, Oshea still had his Oregon teaching license.
To learn why, read part two of this series on Thursday.
1998: Hired by Portland Public Schools.
Dec. 18, 2012: Arrested for DUII in Hood River. Oshea later entered diversion, complied with court-ordered classes, and got the case dismissed in 2014.
July 23, 2015: An ex-girlfriend and former PPS co-worker successfully sought a restraining order against Oshea in Multnomah County Circuit Court. The woman accused Oshea of physical abuse.
Oct. 13, 2015: A Hood River sheriff's deputy arrested him for violating the restraining order after witnesses reported seeing him yelling for his ex from her doorstep.
Oct. 29, 2015: Oshea intervened in a dispute between a student and an aide at school, taking the student to the floor and holding the student there by the student's head, records show.
Oct. 30, 2015: Oshea didn't come to work and didn't call in.
Nov. 3, 2015: PPS puts Oshea on paid administrative leave for "inappropriate" and "excessive" use of force.
March 7, 2016: A second woman sought a restraining order against Oshea, writing that he was physically violent. "When I get home, he goes off on me," she wrote.
March 8, 2016: The PPS Board renews Oshea's teaching contract.
March 14, 2016: Oshea pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for violating the first restraining order and was given 12 months of probation.
March 15, 2016: The second woman withdraws her Hood River County restraining order, writing she no longer feels threatened.
Sept. 8, 2016: Hood River police arrest Oshea on allegations of disorderly conduct, DUII and domestic-violence harassment involving the second woman.
Oct. 3, 2016: The Hood River sheriff's office arrests Oshea on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge of fourth-degree assault.
Oct. 11, 2016: Oshea pleads guilty to the assault.
Feb. 2, 2017: Bend police arrest Oshea for drunk driving and violating his probation. He serves 20 days in Deschutes County Jail.
Feb. 22, 2017: Oshea is booked into the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility for probation violations.
March 30, 2017: Oshea pleads guilty to DUII in Bend.
July 14, 2017: He returns to Deschutes County Jail for a week.
Aug. 28, 2017: Arrested for probation violations in Hood River.
Aug. 31, 2017: PPS moves Oshea from paid leave to unpaid leave.
Dec. 4, 2017: PPS holds a crucial "investigatory meeting" with Oshea.
Dec. 22, 2017: Oshea resigns from PPS.
Correction: Portland Public Schools provided an incorrect salary rate for Stephanie Harper. PPS paid her $64.32 an hour, not $164.32 an hour, to conclude the Oshea case. The Portland Tribune regrets the error.
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