Portland Public Schools superintendent says it's 'not acceptable' and parents say their kids aren't able to learn.

COURTESY PHOTO: SENNA PINNEY - At an open house, a teacher and parent speak in a classroom set up in the Bridger K-8 School gymnasium. The Bridger K-8 School in Southeast Portland is so full that two classes this year are being taught in the gym.

It is a temporary solution, the district says, until it can set up two portables outside. That plan was supposed to happen over the summer, but now the prediction is for November.

In the meantime, say parents, the entire school is without an indoor play area and the students in the gym are unable to listen to their teachers.

Ofelia Lara testified in Spanish to the school board Tuesday evening that her son cannot concentrate and demanded more clarity and transparency around the plan to provide new spaces.

"My child, who is in the fifth grade, is one of the children in two classrooms of the school that has been placed inside the gymnasium as their principle classroom," Lara said through a translator. "There is no true divider between the two classrooms, only a thin curtain of material."

Senna Pinney, a Bridger parent, says this was a predictable problem and one that will continue into next year unless something is done. Bridger is a K-8 school and home to a growing Spanish immersion program with two strands of kindergarten through fourth grade. Next year, it will have two strands of kindergarten to fifth grade Spanish instruction.

Pinney says the school community is frustrated at the lack of forewarning, transparency and parental involvement. A July message about a delay in portables until after the start of the school year was missed by many as an attachment to a school newsletter.

Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero acknowledged the troubles at the board meeting.

"It's not acceptable that all of our students don't have a classroom yet prepared for their learning," Guerrero said. "We do have some unexpected factors that … you should expect us to very transparently review with you."

The district released a statement Thursday from Claire Hertz, deputy superintendent of business and operations that said Oscar Moreno, area assistant superintendent, would be the point person on this issue.

"The district commits to involving parents in discussions when decisions impacting the school and community are made," Hertz said, promising weekly updates.

Patrick Le Boeuf, PPS director of projects and construction, in communications shared with parents, placed much of the blame on the city's permitting process. A late-August permit was issued conditional on the addition of a $75,000 fire sprinkler system, according to Le Boeuf. He added in the email that he doesn't know of any other portables in the district that have a sprinkler system.

"Our District leadership is planning to reach out to the City of Portland leadership to make them aware of the urgent nature of this project and that City Inspectors should prioritize this project when they are called to inspect the work," Le Boeuf wrote in an email shared Aug. 24.

Hertz said that the district would start this month on permitting for next year.

There also might be light at the far end of the tunnel. Kellogg Middle School, now-demolished, will be rebuilt through the 2017 bond. Kellogg is just a couple miles from Bridger. It is not clear yet if Bridger will change to feed into Kellogg, but Hertz promised to engage the parents in discussion. Construction on the Kellogg site will start in 2019, according to the district website.

For now, Bridger parents are worried about what happens when the rain starts to fall, making outdoor PE uncomfortable.

"Winter is coming," notes Bridger parent Ronda Hall Ramirez.

Shasta Kearns Moore
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