The U.S. Department of Justice is hosting a public meeting tonight at Green Valley Ranch Recreation Center to let community voices be heard on the hiring and firing of minority teachers in far northeast Denver.
"There are so many complaints that have been filed," said Annette Sills-Brown, a former Denver Public Schools teacher who was chairwoman of the Black Caucus for the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.
Sills-Brown said the Department of Justice, the federal Office of Civil Rights and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have received complaints claiming that there has been racial discrimination and a disproportionate number of black professionals let go in DPS.
"From what I understand, the meeting was called by the DOJ because of discrimination, and they want teachers who have been discriminated against ... preferably in DPS, to be present to voice those concerns," she said.
According to DPS spokesman Mike Vaughn, since the district began its massive overhaul of underperforming schools in the far northeast region this academic year, teachers and professionals have been removed from their jobs in a process known as "reduction in building," which is related to student population estimates.
Much of the attention centers on Montbello High School, which began this year with the removal of ninth grade and will continue each year by removing the next grade level up. As a result, jobs are inevitably cut, which has led to intense debate about those decisions.
"I don't know the racial breakdown of that phasing out, but I would imagine that some minorities would be included in that," Vaughn said.
One frequent complaint involves allegations that racial discrimination has been the cause of firing — or not hiring — black teachers and professionals. Nate Easley, a Denver school-board member for District 4, which includes Montbello, says that so far, the data do not support the perception.
"It's one thing to feel like there's something going on, and it's another thing to look at the numbers and see that it's disproportionate," Easley said. "I am open to listening to people and will ask for reports for any complaints."
Another frequent complaint cites the ratio of black teachers to black students. According to DPS statistics, 14.6 percent of students are black, compared with 5 percent of teachers.
"Basically, there just aren't enough minority teachers in DPS, and we certainly agree with that," Vaughn said. "We want our teachers to serve our students, and we are trying to do everything we can to bring teachers that are great academically but are also great role models culturally."
"There are a lot of concerns because no other area is under this kind of breakup as far as northeast Denver," said retired teacher Cozette Hammock-West.
"The two schools that have predominantly black students are the two they have tampered with," she said.
Tonight's meeting is "more of a hearing than anything so that they can get empirical data," Hammock-West said. "DOJ cannot discuss any legal matter."
DPS officials say they welcome the discussion.
"The facts are clear that the entire Montbello community is being better served with stronger schools, a more diverse team of educators and greater educational opportunities for our kids," Vaughn said.
Kristen Leigh Painter: 303-954-1638 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Place: Green Valley Ranch Recreation Center
Time: 6:30 p.m.