WESTMINSTER, Colo. - Standley Lake High School and Conifer High School canceled classes for students on Friday because of a high number of teacher absences, and it's all related to current discussions with the Jefferson County school board.
The school board discussed two controversial issues Thursday night -- including revisions to the Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum and changes to the teacher compensation model.
JeffCo Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee held a press conference on Friday afternoon, downplaying the teachers' absences. He said it has only impacted two out of the district's 155 schools and only 50 teachers are involved.
"We want to make sure student's safety and security in addition to a quality educational opportunity is provided," said McMinimee. "In one school I believe there was 32 out of roughly 70 and at another school that number was 18 out of 45 somewhere in that range."
He also said it was "unfortunate" that the teachers made the choice not to go to work today because he believes there are other ways to work through their differences.
"I think it's unfortunate that people made the choice that this was the only opportunity for them to do something like this. While I respect the opportunity for free speech and expression, I think there’s other ways that we can work through these differences without putting kids in the middle of it," said McMinimee.
The superintendent, who has been Jeffco superintendent for just over two months, apologized to parents for the inconvenience.
McMinimee said the board passed the salary compensation plan on Thursday night and under that plan, 98 percent of the teachers would receive a salary increase -- their first increase in four years.
"Last evening, our board actually passed a salary compensation package that was $18.2 million, and that was up from $11.7 million last year. Within that package our beginning teachers, or any teacher under $38,000, was moved up to $38,000. Teachers in the middle of the range from $38,000 to $81,000, there was differentiated salary increases there," said McMinimee.
The compensation package was not approved by teachers, and the board rejected the opinion of an independent reviewer who found the evaluation system was flawed.
As for the curriculum discussion, he said the school board has a right to set the curriculum for the district. He also said AP history is an elective and if parents or students have concerns about it, they can discuss it with the teacher or not take the course.
He didn't rule out the possibility that the absent teachers could receive disciplinary action. He said Friday's sickout is not legal, and the district is considering talking to an attorney.
"Obviously for me, it's less about punishment and more about understanding and trying to pick up the pieces to move forward. We need to have schools in session and our kids deserve to have a great opportunity to learn," said McMinimee.
The district said 32 out 72 teachers -- or 44 percent -- at Standley Lake were absent and at Conifer, 18 out 47 (39%) were absent. Some teachers used their sick days, others used their vacation days.
McMinimee said the school board has tried to work with the union to keep students out of this fight, but the union declined.
The teachers' union released the following statement:
The Jefferson County Education Association is aware of the situation at Standley Lake High School and Conifer High School. This was not organized by JCEA but we certainly understand the frustration teachers and the entire community are experiencing when their elected officials are making decisions in secret, wasting taxpayer dollars, and disrespecting the community's goals for their students. Last night’s discussion about censoring the AP History curriculum is yet another example of this board majority shortchanging our students.
There is some concern that the sickout could last through Monday.
All afterschool activities at both schools will be held as scheduled on Friday.
-- Students also protest; Some parents upset --
About 100 students at Standley Lake were outside the school at mid-morning holding up signs in support of their teachers. They say they are pro-education, not anti-school board. A smaller number of Conifer students also protested outside their school on Friday.
However, one Standley Lake parent who wrote an open letter to the teachers said Friday's "labor strike" was selfish and unprofessional.
"While the small group of you who walked out on the Standley Lake High School community today and forced the school to close have a grievance around compensation with the Jeffco School Board and or District, conducting a strike and closing the school is not the way to create support for your cause. There are many other avenues you could have taken to air your grievances that include writing letters, sending emails, organizing petitions, attending and speaking at a board meeting, attending JCEA meetings, posting a blog, posting on social media and various other public forums. Please keep your contract negotiations out of the classroom. What type of message are you sending to my student that when things get tough, and you don’t like what is happening or you are frustrated, you should just pack up and leave, call in sick or just no show? Should my student now be able to just do the same behavior in your classroom when they get frustrated, get up and leave? This was completely unacceptable. Very poor judgment ... I say shame on you for your selfish behavior today by conducting your own little personal strike. I have heard the arguments that “you are doing this for the kids” but your compensation package is not my child’s concern. Your actions only hurt the kids and especially the kids who are struggling to have academic success."
-- Rex Halbeisen, a Jeffco Public Schools graduate and Standley Lake Booster Club member.
-- Teacher compensation plan --
Under the discussed compensation plan, teachers with an ineffective rating or a partially effective rating with a non-probationary contract won't get a raise.
That had teachers so upset they issued a no-confidence vote against the school board president, Ken Witt, on Tuesday.
The board adopted the proposed compensation plan for teachers for the 2014-2015 school year earlier this month.
Here is the model:
Back in August, the board rejected an independent review that found the district's teacher evaluation system too flawed to set salaries.
- Curriculum revisions --
The school board was also considering establishing a panel to review the introduction of the Common Core State Standards in AP U.S. history.
"Many conservative critics have complained that the changes are revisionist and present a negative view of the country," Chalkbeat Colorado reported.
The proposed panel would make sure materials do not "encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law."
That has many parents and educators concerned about censorship.
School board president Ken Witt said the discussion is still in the early stages.
"That proposal was just that -- it’s a proposal," said Witt. "The details haven’t been worked out. No vote was taken last night. It’s just an open discussion. Where that lands, I really can’t predict, but at the end of the day I think the intent was that it be an opportunity to get input on the quality of our curriculum. There is certainly no intent that I could read in that proposal for censorship."