Education

Teacher Tim Hernández Put on Leave for Attending Rally Supporting Him?

Last week, Tim Hernández, a popular associate teacher at North High School, argued that he'd been ousted from the Denver Public Schools institution for "retaliatory reasons" tied to his dedication to being "outspoken and unapologetically Black and Brown."

Hernández also said that he'd played no role in putting together a May 13 demonstration supporting him, but he did attend the boisterous gathering — and Rachel Haecker, executive director of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, the main DPS educators' union, believes that's the reason he was placed on administrative leave for the remainder of the school year during the event.

"It was evident that students and the community organized the rally," says Haecker, who was also on hand at the demonstration. "So it's really unfortunate the way the district responded to his attendance."

Denver Public Schools media-relations manager Scott Pribble declines to discuss details beyond acknowledging that the district placed Hernández on paid administrative leave "effective Friday, May 13." According to Pribble, "DPS does not discuss specific personnel decisions out of respect for the privacy interests of the employees involved."

Prior to the rally, Hernández went into detail about his time at North and how it was ending. He was hired as a traditional teacher in January 2021 and quickly became a student favorite. But at the end of his first year, he was told the school didn't have enough money to pay his salary — so he was encouraged to apply for a one-year associate position "where the government pays for half of it and the school pays for half of it." As this term was nearing its conclusion, he applied for one of several open teaching positions at North, but was told afterward that he hadn't been hired for any of them because of a subpar interview — an excuse he doesn't buy, since he'd successfully interviewed at the school twice in the previous eighteen months. Instead, Hernández believes that he was bounced because "I openly challenge my principal on issues of equity and anti-racism."

Principal Scott Wolf has declined to comment about specific employees. But in a statement to CBS4 Denver, he said: "Through an equitable process that is the same for all candidates, the hiring committee conducts interviews, reviews applicant materials, and ultimately hires the candidate they believe is best suited to meet the needs of the position."

Haecker sees things very differently. "Tim is a beloved teacher at his campus," she says. "He is a strong advocate for his community, his students and their families. And the rally on Friday showed that they're very supportive of him remaining an educator at North High School. But that being said, it's very disappointing DPS would put him on administrative leave during that rally. His students saw him leaving the school and they were also very upset and disappointed that had happened to him. At a time when the district is not able to retain their educators of color, like Tim, it's very saddening that the students' voices didn't matter in this regard. It was their belief that their teacher was there to support them and help them to become stronger students, but that didn't seem to resonate with the school district at all in this decision."

As Haecker points out, "The majority of students in Denver are students of color, and more than 50 percent of them are Latino. But the percentage of Latino teachers doesn't come close to that. I think it was around 18 percent of educators at the beginning of the school year, and I'm pretty certain that number has shrunk, because we lost a lot of teachers this year for various reasons. And whenever we lose a teacher of color, it means fewer teachers in the classroom that students in a minority group can identify with.

"Denver Public Schools needs to do a better job of understanding the importance of retaining these educators," she continues. "The rally showed how important it is to have a teacher like Tim, who's a role model. It's part of DPS's responsibility as an employer to make sure teachers like him are there for their students."

The DCTA website lists Hernández as a member of the union's board of directors for the city's northwest sector, and Haecker describes him as "an elected governance leader from our membership who has taken on roles as an up-and-coming teacher/leader." But she stresses that this position doesn't earn him special treatment. "As he goes through this process, we will do for him what we would do for any members — ensure that their rights are protected and due process is given to them and followed. We will do our part to support him."
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts