The Cardinal Times Spring 2021 Issue

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PAGE 4 • The Cardinal Times, SPRING, 2021 FEATURES

Politics: Can it be avoided in classrooms?


How are political influences involved or avoided in classrooms?


Since the beginning of 2021 alone, numerous

current events, political discourses

and controversial ideologies have come to

the forefront of the American public’s discussions.

As a result of such a culture, students

and teachers have begun to grapple

with classroom conversations dealing with

these issues.

Despite the immediacy of these dialogues,

actually holding them can be a difficult

task to navigate. Rules such as those

contained within Oregon law ORS 260.432

provide regulation, preventing teachers and

other public employees from “[promoting]

In early February, the safe park program

was proposed by City Commissioner Dan

Ryan, who oversees Portland’s Housing Bureau,

the Joint Office of Homeless Services

and the Bureau of Development Services.

“The idea is that [the safe park program]

would be so that people who live in their

vehicles could park somewhere safe and be

able to have access to the basic amenities...

basic things that we take for granted,” says

Yesenia Carrillo, who is in charge of Constituent

Relations for Ryan as well as being

Ryan’s Policy and Communications Advisor.

According to Portland city officials, the

parking lots would have access to services

that the houseless community can utilize to

move towards more stable housing in the


“[There would be] a bit of support to

help people identify where they could get

services that might help them get back into

an apartment,” says Marc Jolin, Director of

the Joint Office of Homeless Services, “and

then there are other ‘safe park programs’

that are a little more intensively supported.

For folks who are sort of maybe longer term

living in their vehicles, maybe they’re living

in an RV, and then they have more barriers

to getting off of the streets.”

or [opposing] any political committee or

[promoting] or [opposing] the nomination

or election of a candidate, the gathering of

signatures on an initiative, referendum or

recall petition, the adoption of a measure or

the recall of a public office holder while on

the job during working hours.”

Even so, junior Rohan Yamin has found

that this year has created a greater deal of

these kinds of conversations.

“I have definitely had more politicalbased

discussions this year over previous

years,” says Yamin. “Starting with the Black

Lives Matter protests, most teachers have

A similar safe park program is currently

used in other major cities such as Los Angeles,

CA. And according to the Safe Park

LA web, after just five years in operation,

approximately 25% of the houseless population

in LA are now staying in city-protected

safe parking lots.

While this idea may be a new consideration

for Portland’s city officials, it has been

present in the community for a long time.

“The idea is definitely something that

many of our community partners have been

thinking about and advocating for, but [the

safe park program] was not something that

the government agents have pursued,” says

Carrillo. “This has been an idea that’s been

amongst the community for a long time.”

The same concept is currently used within

faith-based organizations. The Portland

Zoning Code under section 33.920.470.B

allows for three vehicles to be parked in a

religious institution’s parking lot per night

as long as they have access to sanitary facilities.

“There have been partnerships in the

past with different faith based organizations

who wanted to make their parking

lots available for people who are living in

their vehicles,” says Carillo.

While a safe park program has yet to be

acknowledged and offered a space to talk

about the current political climate.”

Some teachers feel that the weight of

having conversations about politics and

current events falls more upon some than


Political Economy and History teacher

Dr. Rion Roberts notes that the bulk of

these discussions often occur within certain


“Not all teachers have the ability to engage

in that, because they don’t have the

training in social science analysis,” he says.

“Language arts teachers have it a little

rough, math teachers avoid the conversation

totally, so disproportionately we end

up getting stuck in social sciences as being

the place where we talk about politics.”

Social Sciences teacher and soccer coach

Sam Roberson agrees that such discussions

are common within the classes that he


“In Political Economics we spend the first

full semester talking about nothing other

than politics,” he says. “It’s a daily conversation

for us… In addition to planned daily

discussions, I start every class with a chance

for student check in…. During the first several

minutes of class students can bring up,

talk about, or ask questions about anything

that’s going on in the news or their world.

Much of the time it’s about breaking news

or controversial topics.”

Some teachers outside of Social Sciences,

such as Amanda Elliott who teaches

English and Theory of Knowledge (TOK),

notes that similar conversations sometimes

take place in her classes too.

“I had a couple of classes after the Jan. 6

events, for example, or the election where

I asked if we needed to talk or if we should

implemented in Portland, the city is currently

taking proposals for additional forms

of alternate housing that can be incorporated

into the Portland plan.

“Once we see those proposals, we’ll have

a better idea of both what type of safe park

we’re going to be offering, and what the

scale of that safe park will be,” says Jolin.

Portland has implemented other outdoor

housing solutions during the COVID-19

pandemic that provide a tent, bed, sleeping

bag and other hygienic amenities to accommodate

crowded shelters. According to the

Oregonian, one focuses on the LGBTQ+

community, one on people of color and another

that is for everyone, but prioritizes

older folks. City officials say safe park is a

similar, less expensive alternative.

“One of the advantages of the safe park

programs over any other shelter strategies

that we have is that folks have their vehicles

so we’re not having to invest in sleeping

structures or shelter beds,” says Jolin. “It’s

less expensive, especially in the short-term

model of providing some support to folks.”

Jolin says another potential benefit to the

safe park program is its ability to accommodate

those who are chronically homeless,

or those who aren’t looking for shelter

or permanent housing. This may be due to

just get on with things,” she says. “Most students

just want to get started, but in TOK,

we have groups studying political RLS [real

life situations], so we’ll have discussions

there. Some students are looking at vaccinations,

masks, the Jan. 6 events, and the

White House Columbus Day press release.”

Students at Lincoln have come to understand

such conversations, with both teacher

and student participants, as a common

part of their educations. Junior Tucker

Bowerfind has experienced many political

dialogues within the classroom.

“I have found that, in general, these types

of discussions have been relatively common

in both in-person and in virtual classes,”

he said. “I find that these sorts of discussions

tend to happen the most in classes

that make space for check-ins and whatnot,

where a student will mention some current

event having to do with politics. Teachers

are almost always willing to engage with

important topics that are raised to some


Students such as Bowerfind have found

that teachers will tend to limit how they

speak about their own beliefs.

“Most teachers are careful about what

they choose to say in class about political

issues, but I definitely have had experiences

with teachers voicing strong opinions

on matters that they care about,” he says.

“Even if they don’t say what their beliefs are

outright, I think it’s impossible for them to

completely keep their personal biases relating

to politics out of their teaching or just


Continued on Cardinaltimes.org

New safe park program could help Portland’s houseless


having a bad experience at a shelter, wanting

to stay with their pet or worries about

being separated from their partner.

“You’re still going to find folks who are

camping— when you talk to them about

shelter, their initial reaction is going to be

[that they] don’t really want to go. We try

very hard to help them understand what’s

different about shelter now, and that might

be a better fit than they think. And then we

also just recognize that we need to keep

working on different strategies that might

be better,” says Jolin.

Advocates say everyone living as a houseless

person has a different experience and

may need a different path to permanent

housing. City officials say Portland is working

to accommodate these differences in

needs, and the safe park program may be a

step in that direction.

“It can be dangerous to be sleeping unsheltered.

We want to be able to offer people

some basic safety and stability that

allows them to both be safe tonight,” says

Jolin. “But to have that sense of support,

that allows them to focus on the work they

need to do to get back into permanent

housing because it takes work.”

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