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Firing of beloved Chicano teacher sparks outrage, protests in Denver

By Ryan Stitzel |
May 23, 2022
Tim Hernández (back turned) listening to DPS board meeting from the sidewalk.
Tim Hernández (back turned) listening to DPS board meeting from the sidewalk. (Fight Back! News/staff)

Denver, CO - On May 19, a Denver Public Schools Board of Education meeting was met with protest from students and community members who were outraged at the recent dismissal of beloved Chicano English teacher Tim Hernández.

Earlier that morning, hundreds of those same students had staged their second walkout in a week to protest the dismissal of Hernández. Now, they are taking their fight straight to the school board with clear demands: reinstate Hernández as a teacher, hire more Chicanos and oppressed nationality teachers, and implement measures to protect those teachers from the sort of repression that Hernández is currently facing. 

It was announced in early May that Hernández, the only Chicano teacher in Denver’s North High School’s English department, would not be allowed to return next year and would be placed on administrative leave for the remainder of this year. The student body at North High School is 67% Chicano.

While the administration claims that this is because of a bad interview, Hernández and his supporters believe that this move is in retaliation for his repeated challenging of the administration on “issues of equity and anti-racism.” 

They expressed concerns as to why he was required to interview for a job he already had and had shown great aptitude for. North’s principal, Scott Wolf, who is in his final year as an administrator at the school, says that these interview processes are “equitable” and “the same for all candidates.” However, white teachers, such as Elizabeth Campbell, claimed in their public comment to the Denver Public Schools (DPS) board that they were never required to go through such a process. “Admins have lied to students and staff about their rights,” said Campbell. Another former teacher, Michael Diaz-Rivera said in his comment “The suppression of powerful Black voices by this district is nothing new.”

The demonstrators faced a great deal of repression in order to have their voices heard at the supposedly “open to the public” board meeting. Coordinated efforts by armed security, police and the DPS administration to deny entry to the meeting - on verifiably false claims of being beyond capacity - were successful in preventing members of the community, the press, and even Tim Hernández himself from entering the meeting in person. 

Despite this blatant attempt to bar the public and press, public comment ran for several hours. For most of the evening, Hernández was on the hot sidewalk in front of the Emily Griffith building where the meeting was being held. He huddled around a phone with friends, legal counsel and his union representation to listen to the meeting on Zoom under the watchful eye of a Denver police officer just a few feet away.

When asked why Hernández and several other members of the public and press had been denied entry to a public board meeting, Executive Director of Communications for DPS Will Jones had only this to say: “It was an administrative decision made by Denver Public Schools.”

The statements of students seemed to be the most impactful. One such student told the board “the only safe place I had was with Mr. Hernández.” He then when on to say, “We still have a lot more to do and I will be there for all of it because Mr. Hernández is my community and Mr. Hernández is North.”