Fight Back! News

News and Views from the People's Struggle

Denver: Interview with wrongfully fired Chicano high school teacher Tim Hernández

By Ryan Stitzel

Tim Hernández meeting with supporters

Fight Back! interviews Tim Hernández, a Chicano teacher in Denver who was recently dismissed from his position at North High School on the grounds that he is “divisive.” Students and community members say that Hernández was dismissed because he’s not afraid to take a stand for his students and community. The interview took place outside of a Denver Public Schools Board of Education meeting where supporters of Hernández gathered to demand his reinstatement. Hernández, however, was barred entry to the meeting. Fight Back!: Why are you here today?

Tim Hernández: I’m here to speak during the public comment at a public board meeting of the district that I work in – to speak in advocacy of retaining teachers of color, and more specifically, to speak about the district’s repression of teachers of color who speak out.

Fight Back!: How has this situation impacted you and your school and community?

Hernández: It’s broken us apart. I think we’re living with a lot of pain right now. We’re living with a pain that we didn’t choose, that we didn’t impose on ourselves.

Fight Back!: What kind of changes need to be made at Denver North High School and Denver Public Schools at large to prevent what's happening to you from happening to other teachers of color in the local community?

Hernández: First of all, we need to have data. We don't have any data system designed to specifically track teachers of color and our retention. Second, we need to make sure that we have support systems active, ready and available for teachers of color to be able to report situations like this. I’m using systems that white women use to report when they feel uncomfortable because a man said a slick bullshit comment that was misogynist to them. I’m using the same one to report that my entire district is sending out communication labeling me as “divisive” and using repressive tactics.

After the interview, and after pressure from the members of the public to allow Tim Hernández to speak, the board of education allowed him to make public comment remotely on Zoom. Mr. Hernández addressed the board with the following statement:

“Good afternoon and good evening Denver Public Schools. I’m speaking to you from your lobby, because I was not allowed up to the room where a public meeting is happening. I am a taxpayer and constituent. I am a teacher in this district. My students are seven floors above me. I was not allowed up at the discretion of administrative decisions that are not applicable within my situation. This is governmental repression! This is an abuse of power! What is happening to our teachers of color is absolutely repressive.

“I know that you know who I am. I’m here! I’m happy to meet; I’m happy to discuss with anybody sitting on the Board of Education, any administrator that would like to speak about my decision. But what I’m here to speak to you about today is not just me. I’m here to speak about our Black teachers. I’m here to speak about our indigenous teachers, our Asian teachers, our BIPOC teachers of color who are being run out of this district, yes, run out of this district at disproportionate rates because the district refuses to retain them! I understand that we can get into semantic conversations about what you feel is an associate contract, what's a traditional contract and bureaucratic bullshit the district wants to get weighed down by. Let’s be very clear about a few things: our district is 53% Latinx students. Latino teachers make up 17% of teachers. My school, North High School, the school that I grew up two blocks from, is 67% Latinx students. I am the only Chicano teacher within the English department.

“What is happening in my situation is not an anomaly as Cesar Cedillo [DPS Chief of Schools] would like to claim. Last week, our district weaponized a system that communicates to over 90,000 to minimize, disparage and delegitimize our students of color, who, in this district, in case you didn’t hear, marched out of schools, hundreds of them, in streets covered by police officers. As our students walked out today, they were followed by a police helicopter! You’re telling me our district has enough money to fund police officers, but we don’t have enough money to staff a room right now for an overflow room for all of these people waiting to go upstairs? You’re telling me our district has millions of dollars for an equity department and a whole bunch of people dedicated to equity? My salary is $45,000. My equity, anti-racism, and cultural competence that matches with my students is free!

“Where is the district on issues of oversight and abuses of power by the administration? Last week, an email was sent to my entire 160 person staff that villainized me, that labeled anybody who supported me as divisive. Divisive for what? For speaking out about the ways that students of color feel in our school. For speaking out about what they’re doing to our Brown and Black teachers and for refusing to be quiet! I will not be quiet! Our students will not be quiet!”

#DenverCO #PeoplesStruggles #ChicanoLatino #TimHernandez