Denver AROS coalition demands DPS address unfair treatment of staff, students of color

DPS teacher Michael Diaz-Rivera speaks at the press conference, Oct. 6Partner groups of the Denver Chapter of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) delivered a letter addressed to Tom Boasberg, superintendent of Denver Public Schools, at DPS yesterday afternoon, calling for more action by the district to address the concerns of students and employees of color.

The letter stated, “The district’s demonstrated inability to foster a healthy and supportive work environment for our employees of color is a major failing that deserves immediate attention.” The full letter was read at the press conference by Traci Jewett of Our Denver, Our Schools outside the DPS administration building.

After supporters chanted “Change in Denver” and “Equity for all in DPS,” Henry Roman, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said “We’re here to demand that DPS take immediate action to resolve the issues highlighted in the Bailey report. We do have on-going evidence that our African-American educators, who are needed for our most impacted students, are not receiving the support they need,” from the district.

The AROS Denver Chapter organized the event after Dr. Sharon R. Bailey issued her report entitled, “An Examination of Student and Educator Experiences in Denver Public Schools Through the Voices of African-American Teachers and Administrators.” The study documents poor treatment and lack of support experienced by many African-American teachers working in DPS.

Kahlea Qualls, an African-American elementary teacher in DPS and DCTA member, spoke at the press conference and confirmed the report’s claims that school employees and students of color are treated unfairly.

“Students of color are spoken down to as well as teachers. Personally at my school, I feel like I’m treated less than human and everything that I do is always questioned,” said Quallls. “Teachers who are African-American need to be treated the same as other teachers. Students of color need to be treated the same as other students.”

Teacher Michael Diaz-Rivera said he didn’t know if speaking at the press conference would put his employment with DPS in jeopardy, but said he felt compelled to speak for “investments in the education, health and safety of Black people” and to end the systematic criminalizing of Black youth known as the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

“I teach from a curriculum that has social justice included, but I don’t have time to teach other educators about social justice. That is not my job; that is yours,” Diaz-Rivera said to district administrators, though none were present at the event. “I’ve been in conversation with other teachers, white teachers, who don’t know how to address racial issues, and I try my best to help them out, but that is not my job; that is yours.

“We’ve got to do something about the political discarding of our elder teachers and filling our schools with faculty that is virtually all white, young and inexperienced,” said Diaz-Rivera, who is a DCTA member and also spoke as a representative of Black Lives Matter 5280.

While Diaz-Rivera said his own hiring may show DPS has done some good work to bring more minority teachers into the district, he added, “They’ve got more work to do. I’ve got more work to do, and Superintendent, you have more work to do. I will continue to do this great work and I’m expecting the same of you.”

Event speakers acknowledged DPS issued a plan earlier in the week to address the concerns raised in the Bailey report, but want the district to move from talking about the problems to action.

“We’ve been taking about it for more than 30 years and it’s time to do something about it,” said Padres y Jovenes Unidos Director Ricardo Martinez. “The talking is over. (DPS administrators) have to start hiring people and have a plan to retain people,” of color.

Padres y Jovenes Unidos, Black Lives Matter 5280, DCTA and the Colorado Education Association signed the letter as partners in the AROS Denver Chapter. CEA President Kerrie Dallman and Vice President Amie Baca-Oehlert stood with the speakers at the press conference. Other AROS partners in Denver signing the letter included FRESC, Industrial Areas Foundation Colorado, Denver Federation of Paraprofessionals and Nutrition Service Employees, and the Denver Area Labor Federation.

A DPS representative came outside to accept the letter, but AROS partners were disappointed Boasberg did not step out to receive the letter in person.