Denver Teachers Strike as Colorado Seeks Court Order
Risking jail and $100-a-day fines, Denver’s public teachers went on strike Monday for the first time in 25 years.
The state went to court later in the day to demand a judicial order forcing the teachers back to work. But the hearing was postponed until today to give teachers time to prepare their case.
Officials worked to keep classes running for the district’s 63,000 students with substitute teachers, administrators and teachers who refused to join the strike against the city’s 107 public schools.
Students reported light attendance. At one high school, students were sent to an auditorium to watch the movie “Jurassic Park.”
But Supt. Irv Moskowitz said operations were “very close to normal” in many schools and the screening of “Jurassic Park” was unusual.
About 3,000 of the district’s 3,800 regular teachers stayed away from class, said Leonard Fox, spokesman for the teachers’ union.
District officials didn’t return telephone calls seeking figures on student attendance or the number of teachers who crossed picket lines.
State Labor Commissioner Joe Donlon contends the strike is illegal and strikers could face $100-per-day fines and up to 60 days in jail.
Teachers called the strike Sunday night after rejecting a one-year contract that would have given them a $1,001 annual raise. Denver teachers make an average of $35,004 per year.
The pay package was worth $5.1 million. The teachers sought a package closer to $8 million. Teachers had also sought such things as a union voice on school governance committees and restrictions on how often teachers can be called back to school beyond normal classroom times.
The picket lines went up at daybreak. Later Monday, about 2,000 teachers and their supporters staged a noisy rally outside the school sytem’s administration building.
“It was a hard decision to make, but we made it not only in the interest of ourselves but of our children,” said Valdez Elementary School teacher Andree Hall. “Working conditions are intolerable in the Denver Public Schools.”
Kwai Tabcum, 17, a North High student, was sympathetic.
“There are teachers who have been here seven years and haven’t gotten a raise,” he said. “I’d be out here doing the same thing, but a little more rowdy.”
The last time that Denver teachers walked off the job, in 1969, the strike lasted 14 days.