DCTA bylaws create roadblocks for teachers of color

“We do have on-going evidence that our African-American educators, who are needed for our most impacted students, are not receiving the support they need.”

These were the words of DCTA President Henry Roman in response to a report highlighting the experiences of African-American educators and administrators in Denver Public Schools. The report, released by Dr. Sharon Bailey, a former DPS school board member, revealed that 90 percent of participants identified institutional racism as serious issue in our district.

DCTA leaders have often spoken out on behalf of teachers of color, but the proposed bylaws amendments may present roadblocks for our slowly diversifying workforce.

The majority of Denver teachers are now, and historically have been, white. According to the Colorado Department of Education, almost 75 percent of DPS teachers are white. Latino teachers make up the next largest demographic, accounting for 16 percent of the workforce. This is in stark contrast to the student populations we serve – where only 23 percent are white and 56 percent are Latino.

While steps are being taken at multiple levels to encourage more people of color to enter the teaching profession, we need to be cognizant that if we pass bylaws that shut early-career educators out of leadership positions, we are opening the door for racial discrimination in our own union.

The problem with implementing bylaws that favor members who hold institutional power is that there are entire populations who have historically been unable to participate in those institutions.

Under the proposed amendments, members would only be eligible to run for president, vice-president, secretary, or treasurer with non-probationary status and completion of a full term on DCTA's Board of Directors.

As more teachers of color join our ranks, we cannot simply ask them to wait in line while our existing leaders serve out extended terms. The world around us is changing – and the way teachers unions operate needs to change, too. We need to lift up the voices who are speaking out against segregation and privatization in communities of color.

The idea that hard work and sufficient years of service in DCTA are enough for teachers of color to climb the ranks is false. LEAP has stripped due process rights away from DPS teachers at a far higher rate than evaluation systems in other major Colorado districts. It takes a minimum of three years to attain non-probationary status, and any end-of-year evaluation less than “Effective” will reset that clock. A term on DCTA's board also takes two years, but DPS' high turnover rate often leads to shortened terms and appointments to fill vacancies.

Many new hires end up working at “at-will” innovation schools where our bylaws committee believes they will be too at-risk of being fired to hold a high-ranking position in our union. Even in traditional schools, Senate Bill 191 and LEAP will continue to shrink the number of non-probationary teachers year after year.

These roadblocks, along with the stress and workload of the teaching profession, will prevent talented teachers of color from being able to run for their own union's offices.

We should not allow our union to create a separate and unequal membership classification for some of our teachers and SSPs. Every member who pays dues and is active in our union should be able to put forth his/her vision for our students. We need more pathways to engage our members and work together to fight back against privatization and so-called “reforms.”

We also need to be on the right side of history. When our employer is doing more to encourage teachers of color than our union is, something needs to change. DCTA leaders continue to speak up for teachers of color, but actions are louder than words.

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Above image by Joe Brusky.