Education

Denver Public Schools: Read the story of another teacher who was facing unpaid leave

For this week's cover story, "Wrong Answer," we spoke with five of the teachers behind a lawsuit against Denver Public Schools. Their complaint? That DPS is unfairly using a provision of the state's landmark 2010 teacher-effectiveness law to get rid of good teachers like themselves.

And those five teachers aren't the only ones who feel they've been mistreated. We spoke with several other teachers who say they experienced the same thing. Keep reading for one of their stories.

First, some background on why the teachers are so upset. It starts with a process called "reduction in building," or RIB for short. There are several reasons why a teacher can be RIBed: because her school is closing, for example, or because of a drop in enrollment.

Historically, if a "nonprobationary" (read: tenured) teacher was RIBed from a school in DPS and was unable to find another teaching assignment, the district would place her in an unfilled position. That changed with the passage of the aforementioned teacher-effectiveness law, widely known as Senate Bill 191, in May 2010.

Now if a nonprobationary teacher is RIBed, DPS places her in a temporary assignment and gives her one year or two hiring cycles, whichever is longer, to find a permanent "mutual consent" position -- meaning that a school's principal and hiring committee agree to hire her. If she can't find such a position, she's put on unpaid leave.

While Senate Bill 191 allows DPS to do that, the teachers and the teachers union believe it's unconstitutional. Hence, the lawsuit and a bill that ended up going nowhere last week.

Five of the seven teachers named in the lawsuit agreed to speak with us for our cover story. Because their names are now public, they weren't shy about telling their stories. But several other teachers were -- mainly, they told us, because they hope that DPS will hire them back someday. They agreed to let us to tell their stories if we omitted their names and the names of the schools where they worked.

"Mary" is one of them. The over-fifty-year-old had taught kindergarten in DPS for 26 years when the principal at the elementary school where she worked called her and two other teachers into her office. "She shut the door and said, 'The school is changing direction and your positions have been cut,'" Mary says.

The principal's explanation, Mary says, was that the school was moving to a dual-language format and they needed teachers who were bilingual. Though Mary was not a native Spanish speaker, she'd taken some classes and was certified to teach bilingual students. But that didn't matter, she says. She was RIBed anyway.

Continue reading for more of Mary's story.

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar

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