DENVER — Dozens of Denver North High School students walked out of class Friday to protest school administrators' decision to not rehire English teacher Tim Hernández.
"I teach our only sections of LatinX literature and I teach senior English," Hernández said.
Hernández, who has worked at the school for the past year and a half, is one of the only Chicano teachers at the school, where most students identify as Latino.
“The only feedback that I received was that I did not interview well enough for a job that I’ve been doing for a year and half. Negating the fact that I’ve interviewed twice at this building and been hired,” Hernández said.
The educator says he believes his contract was not renewed because he is outspoken on equity issues.
“The leaders of my school have labeled me as divisive, disruptive. The principal of my school has called me aggressive and attacking, coded language that is hurtful and detrimental to men of color,” Hernández said. “I’m not the first, nor will I be the last Brown or Black teacher to be let go by the district for discriminatory and retaliatory reasons.”
Hernández says he did not encourage students to walkout or protest.
“But I am encouraging that the district listen to the ways in which they choose to make their voices heard,” he said.
“He's, you know, fed me multiple times. He's done so much to show that he cares for students more than just on an educational level,” said junior Cebastian Gomez. “To see him going, it really does strike down everybody that he helped. It just tells us that the school doesn't care because they saw how much he was doing for us.”
Other students also expressed frustration over school leaders' decision.
“He genuinely keeps the community alive at North High School because there are not many Chicano teachers at North High School,” said freshman Veneno Quezada Montoya.
For the Smaling family, Hernández helped freshman Alize Smaling during a very difficult time.
“From the first time we met him, he was amazing,” said Jaqueline Smaling, Alize’s mom. “She’s had health issues, so right now she’s homebound. But he's always checked on her, even in school, to make sure she's good. And so we just want to support him.”
“I like Mr. Hernández because he's always supported me in everything. He's always been there for me and asked how I'm doing. He just supported me as a person and everything that I'm going through here,” Alize Smaling said.
But most students say Hernández's dismissal is an example of a much bigger, decades long issue — hiring and retaining teachers of color at North High School.
“We're having Black, Indigenous and people of color teachers who are leaving because they don't feel welcome… because they're being tokenized, or because, you know, they have slurs being used against them,” Gomez said. “There has been zero effort, truthfully, being put in through the administration other than them saying that they listened to us. You might listen, but you don't act.”
The students also started a petition calling on school leaders to recruit and retain teachers of color.
On Friday, Denver Public Schools told Denver7 it has placed Hernández on paid administrative leave effective immediately. The district did not provide a reason, saying, "Denver Public Schools does not discuss specific personnel decisions out of respect for the privacy interests of the employees involved."