District faces fear in ranks | PostIndependent.com

District faces fear in ranks

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” At the Roaring Fork School District, it exists: a feeling of paranoia among some teachers, staff members and parents that those who speak out against school administrators and district policy will receive retribution for their opinions.

For those employees and parents, the fear is real. And because of it, those same people aren’t being heard ” at least not in a public, open forum where their views can be openly expressed and shared at the district level.

Re-1 superintendent Fred Wall said on Friday he wants to understand that paranoia. So does assistant superintendent Judy Haptonstall.

“I don’t know what it is, but I’m willing to figure it out,” Wall said.

Law protects teachers who speak out

Mike Wilde is the science department chair at Glenwood Springs High, and the president of the Roaring Fork Education Association. The RFCEA represents Re-1 teachers who are members of the Colorado Education Association.

“I’m racking my brain and I can’t come up with any examples in this district of a situation where someone was fired or received retribution for speaking his or her mind,” Wilde said.

“It doesn’t mean that just because you voice your opinion you’re going to get your way,” he added. “But if you want to work towards a solution, you’ve got to be able to be willing to get out there and communicate.”

Haptonstall said because strict laws are in place, teachers cannot be dismissed simply because they voice their opinions on district policy.

“If someone disagrees with the way the administration is being run, you can’t fire them,” Haptonstall said.

Wilde agreed with Haptonstall.

“Judy is right,” Wilde said. “The due process laws in Colorado protect teachers. If it’s a question of insubordination, then that’s something else, but those laws are well-delineated between expressing opinions and insubordination.”

Laws protect teachers

Dennis Carlson heads Ski Country Uniserve, the regional arm of the Colorado Education Association, a labor union that advocates for public education, public schoolteachers and support staff.

He was in Carbondale last week to attend meetings held by administrators and board members with Carbondale Elementary School staff to express opinions good and bad and air grievances.

For Carlson, who helps repair communications throughout mountain districts, the meetings last week were a positive step.

“I thought those meetings were excellent,” Carlson said. “I attended about 10 of them, and Fred and Judy really listened, and let those teachers talk very openly.”

Carlson said with regards to Carbondale Elementary, he did sense a fear of teachers feeling they might be transferred to another school if they spoke out.

“They like the school, they like the community,” he said. “They don’t want to leave.”

But decisions over school personnel are not directly connected to whether or not teachers speak their minds, according to Haptonstall.

She said there are complex issues regarding Carbondale Elementary’s academic performance, and whether or not a teacher states an opinion is not considered in those decisions.

Quotes in the paper

At the Post Independent, it’s often difficult, if not impossible, to find a way to tell both sides of a story, if people involved are not willing to “go on the record.”

That’s because the Post Independent does not allow unnamed sources to appear in its stories.

“It’s our policy that we do not print statements or quotes that aren’t attributed to the person who said it,” said managing editor Heather McGregor. “We have that policy because what we put in the paper has to be credible.”

Parents have contacted the newspaper about their concerns, but have declined to give their names, stating they fear retribution directed at their children.

“What does that mean?” asked Re-1 school board president Susan Hakanson. “I am baffled by that.

“The bottom line is that we have a wonderful staff doing tremendous things for our kids,” Hakanson added. “They’re amazing, dedicated people. I don’t understand that underlying fear. I don’t see it. I would love if someone has that fear to contact me directly and tell me about it. Because if they don’t, I can’t get my arms around it.”

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518


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