'It Was Chaotic': Denver Students Ditch Class on First Day of Teacher Strike

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Student-filmed video showed the halls of Denver's East High School mobbed with teens blasting music and dancing Monday morning—presumably not what district leaders meant when they said school wouldn't be "normal" during the city's first teachers strike in 25 years.

The video was provided to The Denver Post by student journalist Elena Katz, a 17-year-old junior at East High.

Students streamed out of East High on Monday morning after they said school officials told them to leave following rowdy behavior.

DPS officials disputed that any students were told to leave East High: "No, of course not," district spokeswoman Anna Alejo said. "A number of students chose to walk out."

East High School Principal John Youngquist emailed parents mid-morning about the situation.

"We are thankful that all of our students are safe and we are interested in ensuring the continued safety of our students," Youngquist wrote. "If you are concerned that your student has walked out of school and you have not had contact with them, please contact us right away at 720-423-8300."

Youngquist said all students are welcome to return to school and can go back to their strike-schedule classes or obtain a strike schedule in the East High auditorium.

"Thank you for your concern and for your support through this teacher walkout and strike experience," Youngquist wrote to parents.

See Also: Denver Teachers to Strike Over Merit-Pay System

Word of similar disorganized scenes were playing out at other high schools across the city.

Steve Knopper's daughter attends Denver School of the Arts, where she's in a marine biology class in which the students care for live fish.

"If the fish do not get food, they will die," Knopper said via Twitter. "Their teacher made arrangements before she went on strike, but today their classroom is locked."

Joe McComb, an 18-year-old senior and student journalist at Thomas Jefferson High School, said the school's typical seven-period day was changed to a five-period day of math, English, social studies, science, and either SAT or a college-centered class for seniors.

"While the auditorium was completely packed in the morning, many students walked out of the school after the first class of the day," McComb said. "Not many kids are left in school as of 9:15 a.m."

Matt Pence, 18, was among the students who left East High on Monday morning. He said students were given special schedules they were supposed to follow for the day in the event of the strike, but that the school ran out of schedules for everybody.

A photo of a schedule titled "East HS Strike Impacted Schedule" provided by student journalist Ben Hamik showed the day divided up into four periods—college and career, English and social studies, math and science, and exercise and electives—with lunch in the middle.

Hamik, a junior, took a photo of the lessons he was given, which included a worksheet that explained how a student's interests could evolve into careers through an image of an ice cream cone with scoops on top.

"It was chaotic," Pence said. "There wasn't much control. The substitutes were trying as hard as they could, but there was just too many people."

When schedules ran out, Pence said students were left standing in the halls. So they began blaring music and dancing.

"We were playing Public Enemy's 'Fight the Power' and also some Migos," Pence said. "It was getting pretty rowdy in there."

Pence said he was told to leave along with a large majority of students who began flooding out of the school and joined their teachers on the picket lines.

Students were delivering cookies to their picketing teachers, who were outside hoisting protest signs and chanting in freezing temperatures.

"We all support the teachers," Pence said. "They deserve better pay for what they put up with. I know other school districts pay a higher base pay, and they have less money for incentives and put that into teacher salary."

Inside classrooms, Hamik said students were throwing away the lesson plans substitutes were handing out.

"It feels like everything was slapped together last-minute and most students have left knowing they are wasting their time," Hamik said.

Aliciana Dorrance, an East High School 10th grader, described the inside of the school as "so crazy. There's nobody in class."

"Everybody's screaming, 'Pay our teachers,' " Dorrance said. "There's no learning going on."

As Pence was leaving his high school, he wondered what was going to happen with the Advanced Placement statistics test he has scheduled for Tuesday.

"I don't know how that's going to work out. I really hope this just ends soon so we can all go back to school," Pence said.

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