February 20, 2019

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Denver’s teachers are striking. Here’s the scene from the picket line

Feb 11, 2019 | ,

This story will be updated throughout the day.

Denver Public Schools teachers hit the picket lines early Monday morning, the first day of a strike affecting the state’s largest school district.

The walkout comes down to a pay dispute between the Denver school district and the teachers union, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, which represents more than 5,600 teachers in the 90,000-student district. The union and district are at odds over a once-celebrated 2005 pay-for-performance system, known as ProComp.

The strike comes amid a national wave of protests and walkouts over poor pay and the lack of state funding for K-12 schools. In Colorado, some school districts have turned to a four-day school week to save money. Some teachers say they’ve had to buy supplies and snacks for their classrooms, and many teachers complain their salaries — which average $62,095, according to the district — are so low they can’t afford to live in the city in which they teach.

Gov. Jared Polis last week declined a request by the district to intervene and prevent the strike, telling reporters at the state Capitol “the differences between the two sides are minor.” Over the weekend, union bargainers walked away from negotiations with Denver Public Schools but said they would return to the table Tuesday. Schools remain open, though many preschool classrooms will close for lack of substitute teachers.

Related: Ask the Indy: How would a Denver teachers’ strike affect you?

Teachers will rally at the state capitol at 2 p.m. today. We will file dispatches throughout the day.

8 a.m., South High School — Several dozen teachers, bundled against the cold, formed a picket line on the east side of the school. Several carried signs that read, “I’m striking for my students” and “On strike because I support future students” while chanting, “5, 6, 7, 8, DPS negotiate.”

Inside, students packed into the auditorium for attendance and announcements from school administration. As an administrator began going over the strike attendance policy, a student with a megaphone stood up and shouted, “Walk out for your teachers,” and students poured from the gym to the outside. There, students held up signs that read “My teachers deserve better” and “I support my teachers.”

One student spoke into a megaphone: “We must remember that teachers did not want to strike. Of course they did not want to give up the little money they make now. Of course they didn’t want to lose valuable time with their students. DPS wants us to think that the DCTA made a choice. But there was no choice.”

Catherine Salis, a South senior who is on the student senate, said students had been planning a walkout since hearing their teachers would be striking. Salis said she and many of her classmates would go to class immediately following the walkout. “We’re going to respect our school because as much as we’d like to leave with the teachers, that’s not going to get anything done.”

8 a.m., Garden Place Elementary — Outside the school, a small crowd of teachers held posters, sipped coffee and bounced on their feet to stay warm. As students and and parents entered the school, many teachers greeted their students by name and occasionally gave them a them a hug.

“I know they’re in good hands. We still have some of the paras (paraprofessionals),” said Angel Velasquez, who dropped off her 5-year-old daughter before going to take care of her 2-year-old. “I hope that we can give them what they want,” she said of the teachers.

The teachers held signs that read, “You can’t put students first if you put students last.” One teacher, who did not want to be named, said, “We seek a clear, transparent and professional salary.”

South High students left classrooms to show support for striking teachers Monday morning. (Photo by Evan Semón)

9:45 a.m., on the phone with Brett Hann, parent of a Denver School of the Arts freshman. “I sent my kid but within an hour, I got a text from my boy who said they put us all in the concert hall and we’re doing nothing. They said classes were going to be held, but they’re just being warehoused. … Frankly, I’m surprised. If they said they were going to hold classes, you think they would. If they’re not, they should tell us that. To me it’s a bit disingenuous to say, ‘Send your kids — they’ll be good.’ The message I received is that they’d hold classes. … I’m not going to send my kid back just to sit in a concert hall for seven hours. I’m not going to send him tomorrow. I won’t send him until they guarantee there’s going to be learning taking place. … If they’re going to hold classes, I will send my kid, but apparently they aren’t able, and of course they aren’t able. That’s the disingenuousness, for them to promise that they’ll hold classes. I don’t think the district is being straight-up. They need to communicate clearly, so parents know.”

8:22 a.m. East High.: Student video provided to The Colorado Independent:

Alex Burness contributed to this report.

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