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Denver schools will tweak “do not rehire” practice

About 80 Denver teachers recently placed on a permanent “do not rehire” list may have a shot at returning to the district one day.

That’s because the Denver school board voted unanimously Monday to urge district staff to tweak a policy that board members described as unfair or egregious. The motion calls for staff to come back with a policy within 30 days that changes the “do not rehire” practice so it will no longer be permanent — except in the case of “serious limited circumstances” — and outlines reasons for placement on the list.

Staff will explore the amount of time the “do not rehire” recommendation would be in place, including a sliding scale depending on the employee’s professional history.

“I would never support a ban for life when it comes to this particular piece, unless there was a clear reason for having a ban for life on a rehire,” board member Landri Taylor said, citing examples such as criminal actions against children or adults, or embezzlement.

However, the board did not reconsider any of the specific teachers whose contracts were not renewed. In fact, the board voted 5-2 in favor of the list of 220 non-renewals. Board members Jeannie Kaplan and Arturo Jimenez voted against the non-renewals. Board members Mary Seawell, Anne Rowe and Happy Haynes pointed out that — after reviewing the employee files in detail — they believe the district followed its policies and procedures in making the decisions.

“These are based on multiple observations,” board member Rowe said. “It’s not a single principal making a decision and I don’t think it should be…. Can we improve? You bet we can.”

Presently, probationary teachers whose contracts are not renewed for a variety of reasons can be placed on the list. One teacher who testified before the school board last week said he didn’t even know he was blacklisted until he was informed by a Denver principal who wanted to interview him but said he couldn’t. The teacher taught in Jeffco for a few years before seeking to return to Denver Public Schools.

District administrators base the decision of whether to renew probationary teacher contracts on a “body of evidence,” including observation through LEAP (Denver’s teacher evaluation program), student achievement data, and interactions with colleagues and other team members.

Last week, the annual rite became a public show and organized union protest resulting in a 10-hour board meeting filled with emotional stories from teachers who testified about losing their jobs or being placed on the “do not rehire” list.

The board last week voted to delay a decision on the non-renewals so they could look more closely at individual teacher employment files.

There was a kerfuffle at the beginning of the meeting Monday when board members Andrea Merida, Arturo Jimenez and Jeannie Kaplan wanted to go into closed session to discuss individual cases. The board majority kept the focus on policy and blocked the push for a closed meeting.

Merida also did her share of fist pounding (literally) over a lack of adequate time for the board to review the employee files. She said she got the official list from district staff on May 10, and the board was scheduled to vote six days later.

Merida also said she’d like to see an appeals process for teachers whose contracts are not renewed. Seawell, though, said she would not support that because she feared it would undo all the work DPS has done to prepare for the rollout of Senate Bill 10-191, the so-called teacher effectiveness law.

Merida also pushed her colleagues to give district administrators more direction on how much the LEAP teacher evaluation system should play into these decisions.

“There are cases here in which you have teachers with very strong student growth and performance, but for whom subjective reasons were used for making the non-renewal decision,” Merida said.

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