UPDATE: Day of Action cancellation means Jeffco Schools will be open March 19

Casey Van Divier
cvandivier@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 3/10/20

UPDATE: After our print deadline, Jeffco Public Schools announced that due to the cancellation of the CEA's Day of Action March 19 rally, that the district would be holding school as normal on that day. Students will have class that day, and all before and after care programs and bus service will operate as usual.

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UPDATE: Day of Action cancellation means Jeffco Schools will be open March 19

Posted

UPDATE: After our print deadline, Jeffco Public Schools announced that due to the cancellation of the CEA's Day of Action March 19 rally, that the district would be holding school as normal on that day. Students will have class that day, and all before and after care programs and bus service will operate as usual.

Jefferson County Public Schools will be one of six districts closing Thursday, March 19, as thousands of Colorado educators head to the Capitol for the Day of Action, hosted by the Colorado Education Association (CEA).

Educators plan to rally at the Capitol, followed by a morning speaking to legislators, said Amie Baca-Oehlert, CEA president. The association is asking for an increase to education funding and teacher pay.

“We want an opportunity for legislators to hear from educators how low pay impacts them individually,” she said.

Some Jefferson County teachers, like Sydney Slifka at Lakewood’s Westgate Elementary School, say every day, they feel the effects of what they believe to be a funding crisis. Slifka teaches fifth grade, makes and sells jewelry, tutors and coaches, “and I still can’t afford a home in the county I live in,” she said.

“I have had several friends leave the field because they can make more money with less work” in another profession, she said. “We’re not funding our schools, which is affecting our kids. While Colorado’s economy is booming, our schools are starving.”

Many educators have said a particular concern is that a lack of funding has left students without adequate mental health support, Baca-Oehlert added.

On Feb. 26, Jeffco Public Schools announced upcoming closures, saying “the current number of teaching staff who are submitting an absence has moved beyond the maximum number of absences that can be covered by our guest teachers.”

Extracurricular activities are not canceled, although specific schools may choose to cancel certain activities, the announcement said. All schools will open as scheduled on Friday, March 20.

“We understand that this unexpected change is inconvenient for families,” the announcement said. “We made this decision as soon as we reached the threshold where we could not reasonably fill the anticipated absences. Please know we exhausted all resources before deciding to cancel school for students.”

Staff members taking the day off for the Day of Action must use a personal day, as opposed to a sick day. The mass absence isn’t in violation of the teachers’ or support professionals’ unions negotiated requirements with the district, and “as of this time, these requirements are being met by each individual teacher, to our best knowledge,” said Jeffco’s chief human resources officer, David Bell.

Students will not have to make up the school day unless the district closes for additional snow days this year.

Teachers who plan on attending the Day of Action widely agree that the day is a chance to show they value students by taking a personal day to fight for funding.

However, some community members, like Dean Schulze, a parent of an Arvada West student, say the educators’ methods are against taxpayers’ best interest.

“How much are we paying to have teachers engaging in a work stoppage lobby us for higher taxes?” Schulze wrote in an email to CCM. “I find this work stoppage outrageous. Should all government employees be able to take a day off of work to lobby for more money?

Further, the closure could present some immediate obstacles for families. Particularly, some parents may find themselves in need of supervision for their children that day, said Shawna Fritzler, president of the Jeffco PTA. For many of them, the only option may be to seek out a childcare provider and take on the additional cost.

For Arvada resident Sarah Masi, who has three children attending Golden’s Free Horizon Montessori, those costs add up quickly. Masi has enrolled all three of her children in the Apex camp, as she and her husband both work full-time.

“I felt very grateful they offered that. It’s a great option,” she said. However, even after a discount for families who enroll multiple children in the camp, “I’m paying more in childcare that day than I will get from my job.”

On the one hand, the closure has sparked an unexpected expense, and she doesn’t want her children to miss out on educational time, she said.

On the other, “I understand that teachers here are in a tough spot,” she said.

Meanwhile, others in the area have turned to local childcare providers. Darlene Lowe, a home childcare provider in Arvada, said she has received several calls from parents looking for childcare specifically because of the closure, as well as calls from regular customers asking whether the closure will affect services. Lowe still had space available for March 19, as of March 5.

Rates for childcare providers vary throughout the area, with some Jefferson County daycares charging an estimated cost of $40, $60, $65 or $75 for one day, according to care.com, a childcare listing site.

“For families who need to coordinate daycare, that can be difficult,” Fritzler said, “but surely, everyone can join together” to provide solutions.

She added that, while the PTA as an organization has not taken a position on the Day of Action, she personally will attend.

“I can’t tell you the number of (student) mental health issues I’ve run into” because of budget cuts, she said. “We have to do something because it’s negatively impacted our kids.”

The March 19 date was chosen because many districts will be on Spring Break and because it falls right before state legislators will finalize their budget.

“Our first march, it was after the budget was decided for our state. It wasn’t immediately actionable. This year, it’s actionable,” Slifka said. “We’re not walking out on our students; we’re walking for our students.”

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