Emails obtained from an elected union representative of Colorado’s Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) show that the union representative was urging teachers to participate in “sickouts” to protest the decision of a new conservative-led school board to move to a merit pay system.
As Todd Shepherd of The Complete Colorado reports, an email dated September 10th, sent by Lynee Zajac Beck, a science teacher at JeffCo’s 21st Century Virtual Academy, states, “Sick Out planned for Friday Aug 19 [sic]. The board just announced they are going to vote on the pay scales at next week’s meeting – the 18th.”
“It’s up to us to spread the word – we must stop work on Friday the 19th – and let the community know why,” the email read. “JCEA supports a sick out but they can’t officially organize one. It’s up to us!”
Shepherd states that Beck later sent out another message correcting the date of action as September 19th. It was on that Friday that the district closed both Standley Lake and Conifer High Schools due to large numbers of teachers calling in sick.
As Breitbart News has reported, protesting students and media accounts attributed the unrest in the school district to a proposal by a JeffCo Board of Education member for a review of the College Board’s new AP U.S. History (APUSH) framework. Students later revealed in a video produced by JeffCoTruth.org that their teachers told them they were upset about not getting the raises they thought they deserved.
Shepherd writes that the staff of JeffCo’s 21st Century Virtual Academy, which offers full-time and part-time online learning options, are covered by the collective bargaining agreement and are eligible for JCEA membership, though these teachers typically work at home and communicate with students via the Internet.
At an NEA convention in July, Colorado Education Association (CEA) President Kerrie Dallman referred to the JeffCo school district as one of three in her state in which the teachers’ union was “working against hostile school boards.”
“I also want to say thank you to the staff and leaders from the 18 states around the country who were sending in 48 staff under the NEA shared staffing agreement to help with the crisis in our largest local, Jefferson County,” Dallman continued. “These staff will join our leaders and staff to conduct member to member home visits later this month.”
John Ford, president of JCEA, told 9News he thinks it’s “awesome that students understand and recognize their First Amendment rights and they’re taking action.”
“Trying to create a board that in some ways purifies our curriculum is a little bit concerning and somewhat chilling,” Ford said.
Ford, however, continues to deny the sickouts were “organized” by JCEA. As Chalkbeat Colorado reports:
The Jefferson County Education Association today once again denied any role in the mass teacher absences.
“This was not organized by JCEA but we certainly understand the frustration our teachers and the entire community are experiencing when their school board majority are making decisions in secret, wasting taxpayer dollars, and disrespecting the community’s goals for their students,” said John Ford, president of the union, in a statement.
Journalist and teacher union expert Mike Antonucci observed at Intercepts that it may be “literally true” that the sickout was not organized by JCEA. Nonetheless, he said, “that doesn’t rule out a host of other possibilities.” He suggested the walkout could have been organized by CEA, by the NEA UniServ directors Dallman referred to in her NEA address in July, by teachers at the JeffCo high schools with JCEA approval, or by teachers at the high schools with JCEA knowledge of it with no intention to discourage it.
Shepherd observes that The Complete Colorado received an additional mid-September email message from a “self-proclaimed JCEA activist teacher at Golden High School writing ‘on behalf of our entire school.'” The email provided instructions for participation in a teacher walkout.
Additionally, the email indicated a plan for a sickout on Monday, September 22nd, but, in fact, Golden High School, along with Jefferson High School, was not shut down due to large teacher absences until one week later.
Test data collected by the Colorado Department of Education shows that more than 90 percent of Jefferson High School tenth graders are not proficient or above in math, and 62 percent are not proficient in reading.
Similarly, at Golden High School, 60 percent of tenth graders are not proficient or above in math, while 27 percent are not proficient in reading.