Isaac Leyva's white Nikes glistened in the sunlight. The tenth-grader had just been playing soccer in the snow with a group of his classmates during lunch outside the Denver Center for International Studies at Montebello on Monday, February 11.
For Leyva and his classmates, soccer on the snow is typically forbidden because of safety concerns. But this day was atypical. Denver teachers were out of the classroom, striking for the first time in 25 years.
"Today's been different. In my life, I haven't been in a situation with no teachers. When I told my parents that we still had school even though there were no teachers, they thought it was crazy," said Leyva.
According to students outside DCIS Montbello, substitute teachers advised them to work on any outstanding assignments they had if they felt like it.
"They were telling us that if we want to work, we can, but we don't have to," said Samantha Garcia, a freshman who was eating lunch with friends outside. Garcia said her parents also didn't understand why the school stayed open during the strike.
Some parents actually wanted their children to stay home. William Morales, a senior at Noel Community Arts School in Montbello, said his parents told him not to go to school so that he could work instead. But Morales said he chose to attend because he wants to make sure his attendance rate is good enough to walk at graduation.
"It feels like we just came here for no reason without the teachers. I feel like they do deserve more pay," Morales said outside the school on Monday.
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Fellow senior Fabian Rodriguez chimed in. "Most of them are in debt. There are a lot of other opportunities for them, but they choose to teach and do good."
Meanwhile, at East High School, students threw an impromptu dance party in the hallways, leading to what appeared to be a chaotic first day without teachers at the school.
At DCIS Montbello, Levya said there was "no trouble," but he also noted that there had been no classes. "They're not teaching specific subjects," he said.
Whether teachers will return to the classroom in the near future could be determined today, February 12. The teachers' union and Denver Public Schools are set to restart negotiations, which have been taking place since November 2017, over teacher pay.