Harriet Tubman students walk out after teacher placed on leave

Bryan Chu has been outspoken against ODOT’s I-5 expansion and the impacts it would have on Harriet Tubman Middle School.

PORTLAND, Ore. — On Wednesday, a group of Harriet Tubman Middle School students staged a walkout in support of social studies teacher, Bryan Chu. They said Portland Public Schools put Chu on leave effective Monday.

School staff members told KGW the district is investigating Chu for a number of reasons, including disruptions made during school board meetings and for coaching students into opposing the I-5 expansion near the school.

District officials would not confirm Chu’s leave or the reasons behind it, citing privacy rules. By email, a district spokesperson said, “We also take the conduct of our professionals very seriously, and we expect a certain level of decorum in classrooms and in public.”

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Eighth grader Sonja Seidman is in Chu’s social studies class and participated in the walkout. She said one thing Chu has taught students is how to stand up for what they believe in.

“He was like, ‘Well you know, if we ever have a walkout, there’s these signs in the cafeteria and you can just take them off the walls,’” said Seidman. “And so we did that.”

Seidman said Chu had also led class discussions on ODOT’s planned expansion of I-5 near the school, something he’s protested outside of work hours. The district is planning to move Harriet Tubman Middle School because of the expansion.

“He was like, ‘Do you think writing letters to the PPS board’ — he was like, ‘that would be great, do you guys want to do that?’” said Seidman. “And we were like, yes!”

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Seidman said other than Chu providing them with board members’ email addresses, students who wrote the letters did so of their own free will. She has her own theory for why Chu is on leave.

“PPS feels threatened because Mr. Chu was helping us advocate for the school and the community and he was the only one doing that,” said Seidman.

Chu has a history of speaking out against the school district. In February, he was part of a group that interrupted a school board meeting. He accused the superintendent of lying about replacing teachers’ HEPA filters and also swore.

During a 2017 board meeting, Chu criticized the district over its framework for middle school curriculum saying, “PPS, aka mostly BS, this is the crazy-making that has become mostly synonymous with PPS.”

And in a 2018 guest opinion published in The Oregonian, Chu called the district “white supremacist” and “patriarchal,” among other things.

For now, Mr. Chu’s classes go on without him, led by a substitute teacher. While Chu’s future of him with the district is unclear, Seidman said she knows what she wants.

“We as students value Mr. Chu so much,” said Seidman. “We really need him in our school to thrive, fully.”

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