PORTLAND, Ore. — Some Portland mothers said  they’re horrified about the punishments their children are receiving for bad behavior at Caesar Chavez Elementary School. They believe the punishments their kids are receiving don’t fit the crimes.

Now, the group is challenging Portland Public Schools to investigate and make some major changes.

Our news partners at Willamette Week first reported the story.

“I feel really mad, because they know me as a mother and they never told me that my son was punished,” Cecelia Ortega told KATU News.

She shares that feeling with four other mothers. All of them have children who attend Caesar Chavez K-8 School in North Portland. All of them said their kids, who are all Hispanic and as young as seven years old, have similar stories.

“I found my son, he was getting in the restroom with a bag. He didn’t have any gloves on his hand,” Ortega explained.

Ortega said she went to the school and saw her son picking up trash in a bathroom.

She said she was mortified when she learned how a teacher punished her nine-year-old son back in December. She didn’t say what her son did to get in trouble.

She, and the other mothers, talked to KATU News Wednesday through a translator.

“He just turned around and I saw his eyes full of tears. I felt the earth was shaking under me,” Ortega said.

The other mothers said their kids have been forced to pick up trash, and clean desks and walls as punishment for acting up in class, throwing food in the cafeteria and even rolling their eyes at teachers.

“When you punish them in what they were doing they feel humiliated,” she said.

Portland Public Schools calls the punishment program “Restorative Justice Community Service”. Currently, seven K-8 schools use variations of it. Some high schools also use a similar program.
The principal at Caesar Chavez implemented the program a couple of years ago.

Christine Miles, a spokeswoman for the school district, said the goal of the program is to correct behavioral issues but still keep kids at school to learn. She said, part of learning means teaching students how to clean up messes they make, and that consequences follow actions.

For example, if a student throws food, that student might get punished by being tasked with picking up trash.

Miles also said the school district stands by the discipline program. She said they are constantly reviewing it to make it more effective and culturally sensitive.

And, Miles said the school district doesn’t punish students for rolling their eyes at teachers, “If we did that,” she said,” there would be no kids at school.”

Ortega and the other moms don’t buy it.

“I didn’t feel I was in school. I felt that I was in prison, in a jail,” she said.

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