4/15/2023 News Roundup


<<New data is revealing some concerning results regarding disciplinary action within Portland Public Schools.

School leaders said the research shows students of color are disproportionately impacted and they’re also seeing an uptick in hate speech.

The discussion at the Prophet Center centered around how to create an environment of belonging to transform culture within the district.

Students and staff reflected Thursday night on their observations of how conflict is dealt with on Portland Public Schools campuses.>>

<<“PPS data is mirroring our national trends. In that, our black students are 3.5 times disproportionate in receiving referrals and exclusionary discipline,” Chandra Cooper, Senior Director MTSS, said.>>


<<Hundreds of students at Ockley Green Middle School in North Portland walked out of class Friday, April 14 to protest their school placing two Black staffers on leave. The protest is the second in two months under a school administration that is also battling a federal Title IX complaint over alleged mistreatment of female students.

Ockley Green students held signs, circling the building, chanting, “Black teachers matter!” before eventually making their way off school grounds.

Students say Damon Keller, a dance teacher at the school, and Phyllis Harris, a librarian, were both recently placed on administrative leave from their jobs. Students and families aren’t sure why, but they suspect Keller and Harris are being unfairly targeted for discipline, to the detriment of students.

“Recently, they’ve been firing mostly all of our Black faculty members at Ockley Green and around PPS, too,” a student at Ockley Green said Friday. Portland Public Schools staff cited a “personnel matter” and declined to say why the staffers were put on leave.

Parents say they were told Keller used up an excessive amount of sick time, despite clearing the schedule with administrators, but district staff could not confirm.

Earlier this year, Chris Riser, another Black teacher at Ockley Green, left the school mid-year, to take a job at an emerging charter school geared toward students of color. His absence has been felt by students.

Riser, who taught at Ockley Green for seven years before departing, was also placed on leave back in 2018 for helping students organize a protest. He was reinstated at the school, which has seen new principals come and go, but Riser said little has changed at Ockley Green to improve the culture for educators of color.

“The issues with administration go all the way back to the first year of consolidation (as a middle school),” Riser said, referring to 2016, when Ockley Green opened as a new comprehensive middle school.

Riser left around the same time the school hired Spencer Crum as the new assistant principal last fall.

Crum, who grew up in Portland and formerly taught P.E. and health at West Sylvan Middle School, was already under the microscope by Ockley Green staff before his administration gig started.

In 2018, while recounting his experiences growing up as a white kid in “pre-gentrified” North Portland on a podcast, Crum said having exclusively African American friends made it difficult for him to feel like he belonged around white people. Through his youth and up until his early 20s, he said culturally, he identified as Black.

“I’ve always felt more comfortable around people of color than white people,” Crum said on the “Socks & Sandals” podcast. “Going into the University of Oregon, I registered as Black, non-Hispanic.”

He also marked his race as Black when taking the SATs. That was a red flag for some Ockley Green staffers.

“We all found the podcast,” Riser recalled.

Despite Crum spending the bulk of his life in Black-dominated spaces, some say it hasn’t helped create a more welcoming space at Ockley. Riser noted at least one teacher at the school plans to ask for a reassignment next year.

Ockley Green parents say the school has demonstrated a pattern of racist treatment of its teachers in one of the city’s most diverse middle schools.

“Ockley is one of only a handful of minority-majority schools in the state and the building is literally falling apart,” Shannon Shambaugh, an Ockley Green parent, wrote in a letter, noting “huge class sizes and unfilled teaching positions.”

“Students cannot learn in this environment,” Shambaugh wrote. “The principal does not seem to have experience with culturally responsive instruction or an understanding of how white supremacy culture operates and how it has caused great harm in North Portland. PPS has invested in at least 15 YEARS of racial equity training for district staff and THIS is the best they can do??!!”

Friday’s protest wasn’t the first at the middle school and comes amid a backdrop of unease and mistrust of school administrators, among Ockley Green families.

Last month, students protested over concerns about Crum, the new vice principal. Parents told the Mercury a man believed to be Crum was filmed briefly entering a girls restroom and locker room at Ockley Green, unannounced. A student was in the restroom at the time and captured a cell phone video of a man she said was Crum, noting his presence in the girls room made her uncomfortable. The video was shared among a parent group. Other female students have alleged untoward behavior by Crum, but it’s unclear whether any of those concerns have been substantiated.

Around the same time, Crum was named in a federal civil rights complaint, alleging violations of Title IX, the law that guarantees equal access to sports and other federally funded education programs.

Leah Ongiri said she filed a complaint with the school when her daughter observed a pattern of unfair treatment and exclusion of girls by a P.E. teacher.

“Girls were deemed too slow. When they complained, he would sort of encourage the boys to make fun of them,” Ongiri said. She brought the issue to the principal, Julie Rierson, but Rierson was gone, so the complaint went to Crum to investigate. Crum denied any wrongdoing from the P.E. teacher and insisted it was a misunderstanding. Ongiri said she got no help from Rierson, who was dismissive of her concerns.

“That’s when we decided to contact the office of civil rights,” she said. “Since then (Crum) has been seeking my daughter out to retaliate…finding her in the gym, finding her talking to her friends, or on her cell phone. He got close to her physically, raised his voice…each of those times resulting in no disciplinary action or write up.”>>



<<This morning, WW informed the City Attorney’s Office that Officer Brian Hunzeker of the Portland Police Bureau was moonlighting as a Clark County sheriff’s deputy.

Tonight the city told WW in an email that it had “just learned” of his second job in Washington and that Hunzeker had resigned, effective yesterday.

WW learned of Hunzeker’s moonlighting earlier this week. Hunzeker was earning a nearly six-figure salary in Clark County as a sheriff’s deputy since being hired last August. Hunzeker, the former president of the Portland police union, took that job after Mayor Ted Wheeler fired him last year for leaking a police report mistakenly identifying then-Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, a fierce critic of the bureau, in a hit and run.

This February, an arbitrator overturned Wheeler’s decision and ordered Hunzeker reinstated with back pay. Hunzeker returned to the Police Bureau and has since been earning a $107,744 salary from the city of Portland, in addition to his paycheck from Clark County.

It is not clear whether the Clark County Sheriff’s Office was aware that Hunzeker had regained employment in Portland. A spokesperson for the office told WW that he was working “full time” and had four weekly shifts. Hunzeker was paid $45 per hour and received $48,560 last year in total from Clark County, according to OpenPayrolls. A county employee was not authorized to disclose salary information to WW, but confirmed that figure was “approximate.”

It is also not clear what work exactly Hunzeker was doing for the Portland Police Bureau. The bureau did not respond when WW asked on Thursday whether he had returned to duty.>>



<<The Umatilla police sergeant who failed to properly investigate the sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl in 2018 also botched an inquiry into sexual assault accusations by another teenage girl last year, a lawsuit alleges.

The second case involves a Umatilla girl who reported she was sexually assaulted by an 18-year-old male student while on a school-sanctioned trip to Houston last spring.

The girl reported the alleged assault to the district superintendent on the school bus ride back to Oregon last April, according to her lawyer. The school district notified Umatilla police.

Then-Umatilla Detective Sgt. Bill Wright was assigned to the case after a “substantial amount of time” had passed from the initial report, according to an amended federal suit filed Friday.

Wright failed to immediately interview the girl and later falsely claimed to her parents that he was collaborating with Houston police and conducting a “partner” investigation into the allegations, lawyers allege in the suit.

Details of the second case were added in the amended lawsuit after an initial complaint was filed last month against the city of Umatilla, Wright, his chief and lieutenant over his alleged mishandling of the 2018 reported sexual assault.

Umatilla police never filed charges in either case. The FBI eventually stepped in to investigate the first case at the urging of the victim’s parents, resulting in the conviction of a Florida man who had met the 13-year-old girl online and traveled to Oregon to abuse her at a Umatilla hotel.

The Umatilla School District last year hired a private investigator to look into the school trip accusations, and “no allegations were substantiated,” said Superintendent Heidi Sipe.

The amended suit alleges that Wright and Umatilla police failed to follow the department’s protocol in both girls’ cases.

“His superiors failed to conduct any oversight or intervene in Det. Sgt. Wright’s conduct over a multiple year period. The City failed to ensure proper equal rights and minor sexual assault training for the police department and continue to ignore the lack of training and oversight in the UPD,” the suit says.>>

<<Wright was allowed to quietly resign late last month, just two weeks after The Oregonian/OregonLive highlighted his lackluster investigation into the 13-year-old’s sexual assault.>>

<<According to the Umatilla Police Department’s policy manual, all allegations of criminal child abuse are to be investigated and presented to the district attorney’s office for review. Umatilla police also are instructed to notify the state Department of Human Services.

In the second case involving the Umatilla teenage student, lawyers cite a May 24, 2022, email from Wright to the girl’s mother, claiming he had finished the inquiry and sent his report to Houston police for review and possible prosecution.

But the girl’s mother learned that wasn’t true, according to the suit.

Unable to obtain a copy of the purported police report on her daughter’s alleged assault from Umatilla police or the Umatilla County District Attorney’s Office, the girl’s mother turned to Houston police.

Houston police told her they had never been contacted by Umatilla police and knew “nothing” about her daughter’s case, according to the suit.

Only after the girl’s parents continued to press for someone to pay attention to their daughter’s case did they learn Umatilla police had made their first contact with Houston police in July 2022. The abuse allegedly happened on the trip four months before in April.

“As a result of the investigation being handled so poorly” by Umatilla police and Wright, the Houston police didn’t believe they could pursue any criminal charges, according to the suit.>>

<<Attorney Emily C. Stebbins has filed a separate notice of intent to sue the Umatilla School District on behalf of the girl who said she was sexually assaulted on the school trip.

The notice claims the girl reported the alleged repeated abuse during the ride back to Oregon directly to the superintendent, who was on the bus.

The school district failed to protect the girl from exposure to her alleged abuser and failed to keep her accusations confidential, leading to “irreversible disruption” to her education, Stebbins wrote.

Sipe, the superintendent, said in an email that she reported the student’s allegations to Umatilla police “within minutes” of receiving the information and moved students and adults on the bus “to provide additional supervision and space” upon learning of the allegations.

Sipe said the parents were notified of the allegations “within a week of the initial report” and the district had a licensed private investigator conduct a Title IX investigation. Title IX is part of a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities.

“No allegations were substantiated,” according to Sipe. “The Houston and Umatilla Police departments investigated the claims as well and no charges have been filed.”>>