Press Release: Educators Petition Gov. Polis for More Support to Meet Student, Communities Needs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 9, 2020

DENVER – The 39,000 members of the Colorado Education Association have formally asked Gov. Polis to do more to help vulnerable Coloradans, students and educators during the coronavirus pandemic.

CEA delivered a petition to the governor, signed by more than 3,200 members, calling on Gov. Polis to prioritize educators, workers and students by taking additional actions for Colorado communities.

“We readily acknowledge the governor has shown brave and decisive leadership through this crisis,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, a high school counselor and president of the Colorado Education Association. Baca-Oehlert pointed to the state’s actions to close schools, cancel standardized testing for students and waive requirements for educator evaluations as positive developments that have reduced the level of anxiety for students and educators.

“Now we are calling on the Governor to do more. Our state’s lower income and vulnerable populations need more. Our educators and students need more,” stated Baca-Oehlert during a virtual press conference held to address the issues raised in the petition.

CEA members joined the call to talk with the media about the needs of their communities. Kelly Osuna, a high school Spanish teacher in the Cherry Creek School District, said immigration policies impact her school, where students speak 60 languages and come from 80 countries. The CEA petition requests the governor’s assistance in imploring the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to cease all arrests and release nonviolent offenders.

“Even before the threat of COVID-19, many of my students were living in fear for the safety and well-being of themselves and their families,” said Osuna. “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 from the essential jobs they are working, the jobs that are currently keeping our state afloat.

“Everyone in our state needs to feel safe, not fearful and harassed. Restricting ICE actions will allow Colorado’s mix-status families to feel more valued and secure as they do the essential work that benefits us all,” Osuna added.

Another piece in the petition asks the governor to provide firm direction to school districts that, in normal times, are accustomed to having a great amount of local control in making decisions. One example of necessary state direction is moving districts to reimburse educators for additional expenses they have incurred during the rush to distance learning. Carlos Meikel, an elementary school art teacher in the Poudre School District, told reporters he has spent about $200 out of his own pocket so far with more items still to purchase.

“We weren’t prepared to leave school. For remote learning, I needed to get supplies, technology and software on my own,” said Meikel. “It would be very nice to have some direction from the state to have our districts reimburse us. Our family budgets are crunched as well, we have spouses who are out of work now. We need to be reimbursed for those extra things we’re having to get at this time.”

“Employees need to know they are going to be paid and their benefits will continue during this critical time. We need to know we can support our families,” said Monte Hollander, a school bus driver in Jeffco Public Schools, on the stress and uncertainty school support staff are feeling across the state. In another curbing of local control in extraordinary times, the petition calls on Gov. Polis to mandate that school districts continue to pay all employees for the entire school year.

Hollander is receiving pay and benefits now, but he knows school districts can layoff employees. Even having a collective bargaining agreement in place between a district and employees doesn’t prevent a layoff from happening with devastating effects to the local and state economy. “We need the strong support of our governor, school boards and legislators to do the right thing regarding compensation and benefits for all education support professionals. Don’t forget us.”

Baca-Oehlert shared the heartbreak educators are feeling with the sudden end to in-person learning at school, when they “realized with finality that we won’t stand in front of our classes or see our students’ smiles on the school bus or in the lunch line.” She challenged the state and its school districts to rise up to meet the people’s needs and lend great comfort and care at this critical time.

“The coronavirus will test our school communities to be at their best for students and employees,” Baca-Oehlert observed. “In the wake of these uncertain and difficult times, strong leadership from our state is crucial. Together, we will get through this crisis and continue our collective pursuit to help every student thrive.”

Media may request a copy of the petition from Mike Wetzel, CEA public relations director, at mwetzel@coloradoea.org.

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