Denver District Apologizes for Letter That Scared Immigrant Teachers
A racial justice organization says Denver Public Schools is intimidating immigrant teachers who are considering striking, but district officials called it an error.
The Denver Classroom Teachers Association voted this week to authorize a district-wide walkout, calling for better pay for teachers. The school district asked for state intervention on Thursday that could delay the strike for up to 180 days.
However, on Thursday evening, the Colorado People’s Alliance posted a letter sent by a district human resources employee to a school, that stated that teachers on H or J visas who choose to strike will be reported to immigration and the U.S. Department of State.
“If they have a pending case and choose to strike, this could impact the decision on the case,” the letter stated.
Ana Rodriguez, community organizer of the Colorado People’s Alliance, said shortly after seeing the letter, the group began contacting its immigration attorneys.
“As far as we understand right now, the school is not required to reach out to immigration or the (U.S. Department of State),” she said.
The agency called for community members to mobilize and make their opinions known to the school board and superintendent.
“It’s so frustrating that DPS claims to be this welcoming place for immigrant students, but they’re turning around and intimidating immigrant teachers,” Rodriguez said.
In a statement Thursday evening, district spokesman Will Jones said “an incorrect communication was provided by a DPS employee regarding our educators on H-1B and J-1 visas.”
Marisol Calderon, a teacher at Farrell B. Howell, said employees at her school saw the letter, including one who is Venezuelan and seeking asylum and another who is about to become a U.S. citizen.
She called the letter a “scare tactic” that’s discouraging and appalling.
“The fact that the district thought this was OK was extremely scary,” Calderon said.
She added that it discredits what the district has said about immigration and diversity, and it makes it difficult to go back to work on Friday.
But the district statement said the error “was the result of a misinterpretation of the information that we received from our immigration firm, and the communication was in no way intended to cause fear for our educators on visas. Our deepest apologies for any anxiety that was caused by this error.”
DPS said in its statement that the district has to inform the U.S. Department of Labor if a strike takes place but not of employees who are participating in the strike.
Officials said they won’t collect that information or report it to immigration or the U.S. Department of State and that the district is working to “correct this misunderstanding.”
“The district will do everything in our lawful power to protect our students’ and teachers’ confidential information and ensure that our students’ learning environments are not disrupted by immigration enforcement actions,” officials said in the statement.
The firm representing the school district posted information on its website about visa employees and potential strikes.