PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — Since October 2015, Andrew Oshea has been in and out of jail on charges that include violating an ex-girlfriend’s restraining order, drunk driving, assault and disobeying his probation terms.
Through it all, his employer, Portland Public Schools, has never stopped paying him, records show.
The 46-year-old teacher collects $75,725 a year plus benefits, and is assigned to work with some of the district’s most vulnerable special-education students, whose needs are so intense they’re educated in a specialized PPS facility.
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But since November 2015, when the district put Oshea on paid administrative leave for reasons it declines to describe, Oshea has performed no work for the district. Under Oregon law, a teacher who violates court-ordered probation may be considered “grossly unfit” and “unqualified to perform his or her professional responsibilities.”
Almost two years later, though, Portland Public Schools has not fired the teacher. In fact, four months after putting him on paid leave, the Portland School Board voted to renew Oshea’s contract, until June 2018. He then spent a total of 15 school days locked up at the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facility, records show, all while drawing a salary.
Pressed for weeks to explain why any teacher would remain on paid administrative leave for nearly two years, the district on Aug. 4 issued a written statement on behalf of interim superintendent Yousef Awwad, through a district spokesman.
“This issue is taking too long to conclude,” Awwad acknowledged. “It is not okay.”
It’s no secret Portland Public Schools has operated in turmoil since last year, when a lead-in-drinking-water scandal forced the departure of then-Superintendent Carole Smith and several top aides. Dozens of vacancies in the central office have put the brakes on several pressing and very public district projects, including redrawing school attendance boundaries to balance uneven enrollment across schools.
The district’s human resources office has struggled mightily, both before and after Smith’s departure, to manage more than 6,000 employees.
On May 3, PPS human resources chief Sean Murray resigned after nearly five years on the job. The next day, a Multnomah County jury awarded $500,000 each to two African-American maintenance workers who said they suffered racial discrimination at the hands of fellow employees and got inadequate help from human relations staff.
In July, the Portland Association of Teachers said it was preparing for a possible strike, as labor contract talks with the district continued to deteriorate.
Oshea’s continued employment shows the disorder strikes at the heart of the school district’s most basic function — hiring and firing of teachers. While Oshea is on leave, the district must pay a substitute to perform his job.
Polly Zagone, a mother of a former PPS student at a school where Oshea is supposed to work, says teachers there need to have an enormous amount of skill.
“Paying for a substitute to come in is not an effective way to educate these children,” she said. “They need to figure out what do with him. That seems like a no-brainer to me. It’s a waste of special education money to pay for two positions when you’re only using one.”
Oshea declined a request for an interview for this story.
“My attorney said I shouldn’t talk to you,” he said.
For years, he appears to have done good work for Portland Public Schools, where he started in 1998. Most recently, Oshea reported to the Holladay Center in Southeast Portland, a school for high-needs special-education students that’s part of the district’s Pioneer Program.
Portland Public Schools won’t say in detail why it put Oshea on paid administrative leave on Nov. 3, 2015.
But public records show Oshea had trouble in his private life as far back as December 2012, when he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in Hood River, where he has lived while working for Portland Public Schools. Oshea entered diversion, complied with court-ordered classes, and got the case dismissed in 2014.
That alone wouldn’t get a teacher fired in Oregon. The arrest happened during winter break, when Oshea wasn’t working. And the standards of the state licensing agency for teachers make clear that conduct inside the classroom or while on duty triggers the most severe consequences.
Jim Harris, general counsel at PPS, also says alcoholism is a disability under laws protecting employees from discrimination.
But an ex-girlfriend alleged additional troubling behavior in a July 24, 2015 request for a restraining order in Multnomah County Circuit Court. The woman alleged Oshea pulled her by her hair, threw her on her bed, spit on her and forced her to have sex, “even though I was saying no, I don’t want to, over and over,” she wrote.
“He uses violence to try and control me and is very angry, explosive and unpredictable,” she wrote in her request, which was granted.
Oshea was never criminally charged in Multnomah County for this.
Three months later, on Oct. 13, 2015, Hood River police arrested Oshea for violating the restraining order after witnesses reported seeing him yelling for his ex from her doorstep. He was booked into jail and released the next day. On March 14, 2016, Oshea pleaded guilty in Hood River County Circuit Court and was given 12 months of probation.
Within six months, he was back in court.
On Sept. 8, 2016, around 11:45 a.m., a bartender in Hood River called police to report a fight between Oshea and a new girlfriend. When police arrived, the girlfriend told police that Oshea had acted violently toward her, aggressively putting his hand down her shirt and calling her “a f—–g whore.”
He’d been drinking excessively, she said, but then he got into his vehicle and drove away.
Police caught up with him two miles away at the Red Carpet Inn tavern. “I didn’t do anything, dude,” he told officer Kyle Zuercher, according to the officer’s police report. Oshea claimed a friend had driven his car but that he didn’t know the man’s last name, police said. “I think he deals methamphetamine,” Oshea told the officer, explaining why the alleged driver ran away.
Zuercher arrested Oshea on allegations of driving under the influence and took him to the Hood River County Sheriff’s Office, where he was given a breath alcohol test. Asked whether he’d swallowed anything that could interfere with the test, Oshea responded crudely, according to the report: “Just some p—y earlier today, dude.”
Police held him for two days on allegations of domestic violence harassment and disorderly conduct, as well as DUII.
Oshea contested the allegations from his holding cell.
“I didn’t even really look at her, I tried to leave,” he said, according to the officer’s report. “Look, I f—-d up and shouldn’t have driven, but these other charges are bull—t.” He pleaded guilty in October.
Oshea was back in jail later that month, this time for a week, on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge of fourth-degree assault. He pleaded guilty Oct. 11, 2016, court records show.
But it wasn’t his last run-in with the law. Bend police arrested him on Feb. 2, 2017, and accused him again of drunk driving and violating his probation. He was made to wear an ankle alcohol monitor. He pleaded guilty on March 30, 2017.
Due process for teachers
It’s hard but not impossible to fire a teacher for conduct outside of the classroom, says Paul Dakopolos, a Salem employment lawyer who represents school districts.
Only certain crimes — murder, first-degree assault, rape and dealing drugs, among them — automatically disqualify a person from holding a teaching license in Oregon.
When serious questions arise about a teacher’s conduct — inside or outside the classroom — the district’s response is often to put the teacher on paid administrative leave and investigate. If it’s serious enough, the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission will start its own investigation, but details of that are secret unless the agency disciplines the teacher. Today the commission will say only that it has an open inquiry into Oshea.
The district’s contract with the Portland Association of Teachers requires that any PPS investigation into a teacher’s conduct be prompt “in order to limit the time that the professional educator is involuntarily away from work.”
There’s no requirement that PPS wait to finish its investigation or to take action until the licensing agency finishes its inquiry.
But veteran teachers have additional rights, including that they be fired only for just cause.
Portland Public Schools, in its written statement from the interim superintendent, blamed those rules and turnover in the human resources and legal departments for the delay in addressing Oshea’s employment problem.
“The employment discipline and termination process for licensed teachers is complicated, cumbersome and not quick — except for a very specific list of violations,” Awwad wrote. “It is a point of frustration for the district. Additionally, the district HR and legal departments have been experiencing high turnover and are under capacity — and this issue is taking too long to conclude.”
A representative for the teachers’ union, vice president Elizabeth Thiel, declined to comment for this story.
A lawyer for the teachers’ union who often represents PPS teachers under investigation did not respond to an interview request.
The school district lawyer responsible for deciding what to do with Oshea was Stephanie Harper, who rose to interim general counsel last fall after the longtime general counsel resigned in the wake of the district’s lead scandal. Harper declined to respond directly to questions, sending them instead to a district spokesman.
Murray, the former human resources director who resigned in May, did not respond to the Tribune’s questions either.
District has grounds for firing
If Portland Public Schools wanted to fire Oshea, his probation violations would be grounds for arguing that he is professionally unfit under Oregon’s rules for ethical educators.
But Harper didn’t receive copies of the police reports involving Oshea until this year. “late spring — early summer at the latest,” district spokesman Dave Northfield wrote in an email.
By then, the district had already decided to defy a March 20 order from the Multnomah County district attorney to turn over to the Tribune a list of teachers on paid administrative leave — a list that would have raised questions earlier about PPS’s sluggish response to Oshea’s situation.
To block release of the records, the district filed suit in Multnomah County Circuit Court in April against the Tribune and a second person who requested the information, parent activist Kim Sordyl. The case is still pending, and the district must pay all parties’ legal costs if it loses.
Harper advised the district to block release of the records, arguing that Oregon law is unclear on whether they’re public.
The new general counsel, Jim Harris, started his job June 15. PPS hired a new human resources director, Kylie Rogers, this month.
Awwad said the district is committed to doing better on cases such as Oshea’s.
“It is not okay and it will be addressed as part of a comprehensive overhaul of human resources, including how investigations are conducted,” he wrote in his statement. “On this case, it is a priority to resolve in the coming weeks.”