Union calls on Colorado governor to protect teachers, families

Colorado’s teachers union sent a petition to Gov. Jared Polis’ office Wednesday urging him to bypass the local control school districts typically assume and issue statewide mandates on pay and other issues as teachers and students deal with an unprecedented situation.

Their requests:

  • Direct superintendents to work in good faith with their local teachers unions to bargain or mutually
    agree on distance learning practices and policies.
  • Tell school districts to reimburse educators for money spent out of their own pocket related to implementing distance learning.
  • Mandate school districts continue to pay all employees for the entire school year and prohibiting the
    legislature from negatively impacting current year school district budgets.
  • Direct ICE to cease all arrests and release non-violent offenders.
  • Halt evictions and foreclosures for the duration of the crisis.
  • Expand unemployment benefits and expedite access.

During a Wednesday virtual news conference, Colorado Education Association President Amie Baca-Oehlert said more than 3,000 Colorado educators signed the petition.

Polis spokesperson Conor Cahill didn’t say whether the governor would take the actions requested but said Colorado’s educators are among the linchpins of the state’s COVID-19 response.

“Every day — even more than usual — educators are being asked to go above and beyond for their students, whether that is teaching a virtual lesson, helping a family locate their nearest emergency meal location, or just reaching out to a student to let them know they are thinking about them,” Cahill said. “Our administration has strongly encouraged school districts to continue paying educators throughout this crisis to support them in this critical work, and is focused on doing everything we can to expand access to key services to support families during this time.”

Kelly Osuna, a high school Spanish teacher in the Cherry Creek School District, said one of her students is supporting her family through her fast food job because family members fear leaving their home and encountering ICE.

“As this pandemic continues to take over our society, our young people need to feel secure in the fact that their parents will come home,” Osuna said.

Carlos Meikel, an elementary school art teacher in Fort Collins’ Poudre School District, said he has already spent about $200 of his own money preparing for remote learning. Meikel wants to see the state step up to make sure teachers are being reimbursed for their expenses while making the drastic switch to at-home learning.

Monte Hollander, a school bus driver in Jeffco Public Schools, worries about his pay as Jeffco and several other Denver metro school districts announced last week that in-person wouldn’t resume this academic year.

“We need to know we are going to be paid and our benefits continue during this critical time,” Hollander said. “We need to know we can support our families.”

The request for the state to step into what is normally school district territory is due to the unprecedented times the pandemic has left communities in, Baca-Oehlert said.

“In a crisis when you have the potential of 178 different ways of addressing or deal with a situation, that just adds to the level of chaos already existing in the system,” Baca-Oehlert said. “That’s why we’re calling on the governor to take on some of these things that could really ease that burden. We’re not saying local control should go out the window on every single issue educators are facing right now, but there are certain things that could be a statewide directive or guidance that could lessen the chaos right now.”

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