Portland parents claim district is short-changing students on class time

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Education officials have launched an investigation into Portland Public Schools after a group of parents complained the district is not providing enough school days under law.

The Portland Parents Coalition says problems arose when high school schedules were changed from 7-period days to 8-period days in 2011. Since then, the coalition believes the school district has been out of compliance with two Oregon laws. One mandates that a minimum of 990 instructional hours be offered to students. The other sets a minimum standard of 130 class hours to earn a high school credit.

"When the district went from a seven period day to and eight period day, and the same number of hours when kids are in school, it meant that each class met for less time," said Caroline Fenn, a member of the coalition.

Less time is spent because under an eight-period schedule, students attend four classes each day on an alternating schedule. The coalition claims that it only adds up to 124 hours per credit earned.

"Technically, people should not be getting credit for these classes that they're taking," said Fenn.

In response, Portland Public School leaders say they are complying with all state laws. They've explained to parents how instructional time limits are being met and they say all necessary documentation has been sent to the Oregon Department of Education for its investigation.

Not enough staff?

The 990-hour instructional limit presents a different problem. In order for students to meet that limit, they would have to take a full course load. That's not a requirement for graduation but the coalition says the district has to at least offer a full load to students. They claim those students who want a full course load can't sign up for it because classes are often full or there aren't enough teachers.

"There aren't enough staff to actually offer kids eight periods," said Fenn.

Most students don't take a full course load because they say the workload is too big. But some students say they can see how class availability would prevent another student from signing up for a full schedule.

"I definitely know students who have three or four free periods," said Cleveland High School senior Emma Christ. "Sometimes that's by choice. They just decide they don't want to take other classes. Sometimes I guess it's because they didn't get into the classes they wanted."

The Oregon Department of Education is expected to release its findings in about two months.