DPS Officials Say He Is on Leave Through the School Year
Article updated at 3 p.m. May 16 to include comments from students.
With about three weeks until summer break, Denver Public Schools placed popular English teacher Tim Hernández on paid administrative leave for the remainder of the school year after he joined a student walk-out and march on May 13 in support of keeping him on staff.
Hernández was notified by Denver Public Schools in early May that his contract as an English teacher at North High School would not be renewed for the next school year, and since then a group of students and parents have rallied to keep him in the classroom.
Hernández was hired in January 2021 as an English teacher, but he said his superiors told him that there wasn’t enough in the budget to keep him as a full-time employee, so NHS kept him on as an associate.
But his contract was only for one year and he had to reapply for a position, which DPS officials say has already been filled.
“I’m very outspoken when it comes to issues of anti-racism, equity inclusion, which is disruptive to people that are interested in maintaining their versions of anti-racism, equity and inclusion,” Hernández told The Denver North Star.
Hernández said NHS has mostly white teachers, and Latino teachers are still a minority, despite the school having mostly Latino students, according to a spreadsheet from DPS for the 2021-2022 school year.
“I place a deep priority on student voice,” he said. “I tell my students that what they say matters. Students in my Latinx leadership class created an original book of photography and poems about gentrification on the Northside, about what it’s like to be growing up right now in this neighborhood.”
Hernández said the neighborhood around NHS is one of the most gentrified in the country, and he wanted students to document their experiences. The book has since been given to the Denver Public Library.
The walk-out May 13 was attended by about 300 people, which included teachers, students and other community members who walked from NHS to La Raza Park in the middle of the streets shortly after 9 a.m. A police escort was involved to make sure the participants stayed safe.
Shortly after the walk-out began to travel to La Raza, Hernández showed up to a flurry of students who hugged him, as he joined the chants. Many students made signs imploring the school district to renew his contract.
DPS spokesman Scott Pribble said it was the school district that made the decision to place Hernández on paid administrative leave, but he declined to comment on whether Hernández’ participation in the student walk-out Friday contributed to that decision.
Pribble said Hernández had to reapply for the position after his contract was up and that not every contract is guaranteed to be renewed.
“Some contracts end and those teachers have to reapply, even if it’s for the same position, and during that process the selection committee chose a different applicant,” Pribble said. “We are aware the students may be planning some action, and DPS respects and supports students to be able to express their opinion in a peaceful manner.”
Hernández said he also worked with community members to create a public refrigerator so students who were hungry could get snacks.
“I think more than anything, my students know how deeply I (care) about this,” he said. “I think that’s what galvanized this more than anything because to me, this isn’t just a job that I work 40 hours a week. I still live here. I still live here as a Latino teacher.”
A petition to keep Hernández on as a teacher at Change.org received more than 1,500 signatures in support of the cause as of May 11. The petition also has links to what Hernández says are his reviews from DPS as a teacher.
Nayeli Lopez, a North High student, told The Denver North Star that Hernández has been involved with students as well as the surrounding community, and she said the fight to keep him on staff is not yet over.
“I’ve personally heard teachers tell us we don’t belong and that we won’t get anywhere in life. The kids who they see as troubled and unteachable, he sees as amazing and kids who are going to do something great in life,” Lopez said. “Many teachers tell kids to their face how tired they are of them. Mr. Hernández tells us how proud he is of us. He’s a favorite teacher and a trusted adult for those who don’t even have a class with him. That alone tells us how much he puts into his teaching.”
Cebastian Gomez, a junior at North High, said without Hernández, students will be without a resource of motivation and comfort.
“Within the time that Mr. Hernández has had here, he’s been able to reach out to so many students and start up a collective for us to feel safe and to feel empowered by one another and our skin color,” Gomez said.
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