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Tensions rising between teachers, leadership in Colorado school districts

Return to in-person learning prompts new disputes
Tensions rising between teachers, leadership in Colorado school districts
Posted at 7:43 AM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 10:15:31-05

Tensions are rising in two metro area school districts over concerns about in-person learning.

On Tuesday, the JeffCo Public Schools Board of Education is set to decide when high school and middle school students will return to five days a week of in-person learning. A copy of a letter signed by staff at Standley Lake High School and obtained by Denver7 called JeffCo’s Restart Plan a “massive failure.” A petition is also circulating calling for JeffCo to postpone a return to full in-person for secondary students until the fall.

Meanwhile, in Aurora Public Schools, a special board meeting was called for Tuesday to address a rift between Superintendent Rico Munn and the board of the Aurora Education Association (teachers union). Late Monday, the board canceled the meeting and said they would work to resolve any outstanding questions and concerns.

The latest dispute began after union leadership expressed frustrations with the district’s return to in-person learning and accused Munn of ignoring teachers’ input. Munn countered with a letter accusing union leadership of making “dishonest” and “inappropriate” claims.

“I think it’s very fair to say that they made a very dangerous public allegation that we were not following the science, not following best practices and because of that, we were endangering staff and endangering the community,” said Rico Munn in an interview Monday.

He said he felt the need to respond in an open letter to the union board.

The APS Board of Education called the special meeting to address what some felt was an inappropriate response by Munn. Board President Kyla Armstrong-Romero said she has not always agreed with Munn’s direct style but understood where he was coming from.

“Frankly, the tone of the union board was not only a criticism of superintendent Munn, but also a criticism of our board,” said Armstrong-Romero.

Armstrong-Romero acknowledged multiple disagreements throughout the school year between the superintendent, teachers, and the APS board regarding the return to in-person learning. APS has been more conservative than other school districts, only recently bringing secondary students back to school in a hybrid model. Elementary students attend school four days a week, with an asynchronous learning day on Friday.

Other Colorado school districts have also seen tensions stemming from disagreements about learning in a pandemic. In Douglas County, a father upset about the delay for in-person learning launched an effort to recall four school board members.

Armstrong-Romero said schools need to remain focused on what's best for students.

"The fact that we’ve served so many families, the fact that our graduation rate is the highest its every been, the fact that we’ve closed gaps between Black and brown kids — those are the things that should be highlighted," she said.