The party won’t stop until we get a contract,” the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) declared while advertising a tailgate and dance party in the midst of prolonged school closures. The teachers union in Portland, Oregon, launched a strike on November 1st, closing all schools in the district. Parents were justifiably frustrated that over 40,000 students were shut out of school for almost the entire month.

After enduring lengthy COVID-era public school closures, parents know the devastating impact on their children when schools refuse to educate them. Even The New York Times finally admitted in a recent editorial that school closures were likely “the most damaging disruption in the history of American education.” The Times acknowledged what parents knew years ago: prolonged school closures caused alarming learning loss, widened the achievement gap, fueled chronic absenteeism, increased school disengagement, worsened mental health, negatively impacted social development, and diminished lifetime earning potential.

Regrettably, Portland families once again bore the brunt of closed schools due to the local teachers union’s strike. While the union encouraged members to “bring your grills & games” to a picket line tailgate and then “bring your glow sticks & lights” to an evening dance party, their antics harmed the district’s students academically, emotionally, and socially.

The Oregonian called for an end to the strike: “As negotiations creep along, some 43,000 kids, from kindergartners to high school seniors, remain caught in the uncertainty and aimlessness of school days suddenly canceled.” Unfortunately, the union ignored public pressure and continued to lock students out of school until finally tentatively agreeing to a contract at the end of the month.

The salary negotiations gap between union and district negotiators remained wide throughout the strike, with the district originally offering a salary increase that would raise Portland’s average teacher salary to over $87,000, with 62% of teachers earning more than $90,000 and 40% of them earning over $100,000. The union initially demanded a 23% pay raise over three years, and finally ended the strike when the district agreed to a 13.8% cost-of-living increase over the next three years, with half of teachers receiving an additional 10.6% salary increase, as well.

With the agreement costing $175 million and student enrollment “cratering,” the district will inevitably cut programs and possibly even teaching positions in the near future to pay for the union’s demands.

By keeping students out of the classroom and preventing essential instruction time, the union harmed the students in Portland who were already struggling. In the 2022-23 school year, only 27% of 11th graders and 8% of black 8th graders passed the state math assessment. The majority of Portland’s students, including only 39% of 11th graders, did not meet state standards in science. Even before the strike, chronic absenteeism was on the rise, with 36% of Portland’s students missing more than 10% of school days last year.

As the strike continued, Portland families faced impossible choices of whether to leave children at home unsupervised or miss yet another day of work. Unscheduled childcare expenses piled up, and parents expressed concern that their children are facing COVID-era social isolation and learning loss once again. Parents reported that they were “at the end of our rope” and “exhausted mentally & physically.”

“It doesn’t feel like we’re in it together. All in all, it feels much worse than school closures during COVID,” Portland parent Christine Pitts said during the strike. “This is not justified. You can bargain without a strike. It’s pretty scary that no one is even talking about how kids are doing right now… They’re going to go almost a month without school.”

Portland parent Andy Jacob believes that “people want to support teachers,” but parents did not realize the strike would drag on for weeks. Even people who are generally supportive of the union’s position began saying “we just need to get schools open.”

Portland parents are recognizing that the union prioritizes dues-paying adults over students. The union’s disingenuous rhetoric, featured in picket signs, social media posts, and songs, claimed their demands were “for our students.” A prolonged strike that threatened to tip every Portland student into chronic absenteeism status proves that the union were looking out for themselves, not the district’s students.

So, what can parents do to make sure their kids’ needs are prioritized? While many parents felt helpless throughout November, some took action by publicly sharing concerns and describing the personal impact of strike-induced school closures. Going forward, parents can support initiatives to introduce education freedom in Oregon. Multiple groups in the state are advancing ballot initiatives, both constitutional and statutory, to empower parents to leave public schools that aren’t prioritizing their children’s needs.

While the Portland teachers union danced and sang through a month of devastating school closures, parents are realizing that it is time to take the reins of their children’s educational future. No child in America should be forced to miss a month of school because of union members’ selfishness. Parents deserve the option to escape union-controlled schools and find alternatives where their children can thrive.