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Denver Public Schools explains 'incorrect communication' about visa holders

The district said a human resources employee misunderstood guidance that was provided by an immigration law firm that they consult with to make sure visa requirements are followed.

DENVER — Denver Public Schools provided an explanation about how an "incorrect communication" was sent out last month that told teachers who hold visas to disclose if they were going to strike so they could be reported to immigration.

The letter sent to teachers on Jan. 22 instructed visa holders to disclose if they were going to strike so they could be reported to immigration. That was the same day that members of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association voted to strike for the first time since 1994.

On Monday, the district said it had completed a review into what led up to the letter being distributed.

RELATED: DPS apologized for threatening to report striking teachers to immigration

After the teachers union voted to strike, many teachers on visas and their principals asked HR if the teachers could strike, the district said. As a result, the district said a human resources employee reached out to an outside law firm for guidance. They regularly work with that law firm to make sure that all requirements associated with the visa process are followed. 

The law firm provided an email as guidance. In it, the immigration firm stated that DPS is legally required to notify the U.S. Department of Labor within three days of a strike and that a strike could "have a significant impact on H-1B employees (current and pending)," according to the district. You can read the law firm's full email here.

Based on a misunderstanding of that guidance, the HR employee sent an email on Jan. 22, to two other Human Resources Partners who support schools, the district said.

The HR employee's email said the following:

"In the [e]vent you have teachers on H or J visa that choose to strike we need to be informed as soon as possible as we are required to inform immigration and the department of state. If they have a pending case and choose to strike this could impact the decision on the case. I would advise any teacher inquiring about their personal situation to contact the immigration attorney or myself. They can seek advisement with regards to their personal situation directly from the attorney."

The district noted that communication was incorrect in the following three ways. 

  1. She wrote that we [the district]  are required to inform "immigration" when she intended to write that DPS is required to notify our immigration attorney
  2. She incorrectly referenced notifying the Department of State, which administers the district's J visa program, instead of the Department of Labor, which administers the district's H-1B visa program
  3. She included her mistaken belief that our immigration attorney needed to be notified of the individual teachers on visas who chose to participate in a strike. The district is only required to notify the Department of Labor that a strike is occurring, not of any individual choices to strike or not strike.

The district also said the employee did not consult with in-house DPS lawyers or share the language with her supervisor prior to sending the email.

"This was wrong," district Superintendent Susana Cordova said last month. "I cannot begin to express how shocked I was to learn of this message and how deeply sorry I am for the anxiety and fear that this has caused our educators, our family and our community."

Last month, school board member Jennifer Bacon told 9NEWS there could possibly be staff termination because of this email. The statement from DPS about what happened only noted that they have taken "appropriate corrective actions with those involved in the event."

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