DPS: All schools to be open for strike’s 1st day
Less than 24 hours from the beginning of a seemingly inevitable teachers strike — Denver’s first in a quarter century — key unknowns remained.
How many of Denver’s 5,353 educators will join the walkout over better pay? Will Denver Public Schools be able to employ enough substitute teachers, and shift enough central-office employees, to keep each of the district’s 160 schools open throughout a strike?
And how many concerned parents will simply keep their kids home?
The first hint at an answer to one of those questions came Sunday evening, when DPS officials announced that all of the district’s schools will be open Monday — although preschool classes, as expect-
ed, will be canceled. The district will assess staffing at each school on a daily basis, and hasn’t ruled out needing to close facilities if the strike continues.
DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova began the day Sunday meeting with district officials to discuss their latest teacher-compensation proposal. But the room that’s hosted the district’s bargaining sessions with the Denver Classroom Teachers Association looked significantly different than it did Saturday night — for one thing, the union wasn’t there.
Following failed contract talks Saturday night, union representatives declared they were ready to strike Monday, and wouldn’t resume negotiations until Tuesday. District officials nevertheless pledged to meet again Sunday and invited the union to continue bargaining.
Denver teachers now are set to walk out for the first time since 1994, having failed to reach a new compensation agreement involving the 20-year-old pay system called ProComp. The district has hired 300 new substitute teachers in addition to its 1,200-person active roster of subs, while 1,400 employees from the central administrative office will be required to help fill in the gaps at schools.
A “fluid situation”
District spokeswoman Anna Alejo said Sunday that she can’t share information about how many substitute teachers will go to which schools because it’s a “fluid situation” and will depend on what happens on Monday. But she said schools won’t look as they do regularly.
Some schools have sent emails to parents explaining logistics and expectations, such as Bill Roberts K-8 School, which told parents and guardians on Friday that in addition to administrators, office staff members and paraprofessionals, the district had assigned three licensed substitute teachers to the school and seven unlicensed DPS central employees. The email stated that five of the school’s paraeducators also had substitute-teaching licenses.
Other schools have sent regulations on what students can and can’t bring to school, and at least one has explained that absences during the strike that parents call in to excuse won’t count against students.
Some parents have said it feels like the district is trying to discourage attendance during the strike. However, Cordova said on Sunday that one of the lessons learned from the recent Los Angeles teachers strike — which saw high student absenteeism — is that high-poverty schools continue to see strong attendance rates during a strike, so the district is working to ensure gaps are filled.
Cordova expressed disappointment that the teachers union decided not to come back to the bargaining table Sunday, saying the district was willing to continue working on a proposal throughout the day. “The governor said it, our mediator said it. ‘This ends with a deal,’ ” Cordova said.
The teachers union sent an email Sunday afternoon saying that after 10 hours of negotiations on Friday and Saturday, “DPS continued to bring proposals that exacerbate the problems educators are trying to fix. Both parties will take time to cool off and come back together Tuesday.”
Denver police officials said on Sunday that they will follow their operations manual on labor strikes, which includes ensuring officers don’t take sides but maintain safety and avoid arrests for minor incidents as much as possible.
Hoping kids get “some level of education”
Parents, students and even teachers have been trying to make sense of what the strike could mean for them come Monday.
Henry Waldstreicher, a senior at George Washington High School, said he plans to join his teachers on the picket line at 6:30 a.m. and be in class by 7:25 a.m.
Waldstreicher said his teachers “have been absolutely incredible” and he plans to support them — and hopes DPS will do the same. He said he’s worried that if the parties don’t come to an agreement after a few days of striking, students including himself will get behind in their work.
Seventh-grader Haven Coleman said she plans to go to school Monday in an effort to overwhelm the district, so officials recognize how important their teachers are.
“When my teachers leave to go somewhere else for better pay, I feel like my education has been handed away. Given to another kid,” she said. “My teachers are the best, so I want the best for them.”
Lorna McLean-Thomas is the mother of a preschooler who won’t be able to attend classes during the strike. She’s able to stay home with her child and has offered to watch other parents’ kids for short periods of time during the strike. McLeanThomas said the parents have a Facebook group and are able to communicate that way, but she worries about refugee and immigrant families who don’t have the same resources or access.
But McLean-Thomas said she’s supportive of the teachers. She blames the district for not having a backup plan when officials knew the possibility of a strike was there for months, leaving families such as hers to find their own solutions.
Nick Onofrio is a parent of a third-grader in the district and said the animosity between the teachers union and school district has been disheartening.
“We will send our child to school optimistic they will receive some level of education,” he said. “… We also encourage DPS and the DCTA to work together to a reasonable shortterm solution.”
Alex Maddock, a former teacher in Maryland and a DPS employee in the district’s central office who will be deployed into the schools, said the rhetoric has been disheartening for him to see as well. He said he supports teachers but feels the way the discussions were handled by the union were not appropriate.
“I am embarrassed to be a DPS employee today,” he said.
From left, Denver Public Schools teachers Lauren Griner and Keri Phillips shout during Saturday’s negotiations between the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and DPS district officials.
From left, Denver Public Schools teachers Moira Casados Cassidy, Rachel Brody and Adrienne Anderson make signs Sunday ahead of the strike.