DENVER — Maggie Y., a sophomore at East High School, said Monday was the first time she had ever ditched class. Even her parents were fine with it.
"They gave us this little packet, they didn't have actual teachers," she said.
So, she joined her "actual teachers" and dozens of their supporters on the picket line just off East Colfax Avenue.
Denver Public Schools teachers went on strike for the first time in 25 years on Monday, and though the district reiterated it would be business as usual, that wasn't the case at East High.
Hundreds of students walked out before lunch after receiving a schedule that included an hour-and-a-half for "college and career" as well as "exercise and electives." Video from inside the school showed students crowding the hallway and listening to music -- something they described as a "party."
East High School seniors Caitlin Kenney and Grace McCabe were some of the students who walked out. They left campus for a brief period of time, but returned with snacks for the red-clad people on the picket line.
"A lot of people were saying it wasn't worth it to go to school today," McCabe said. "I think it's cool to see my teachers out there."
Earlier, DPS said it had spent more than $136,000 on lesson plans for days one and two of the strike.
Superintendent Susana Cordova spoke to the media at Emily Griffith Technical College in the city regarding the status of the district's schools half a day into the strike. She reiterated several times that she and her staff's main goal was to reach a deal on Tuesday when negotiations resume.
"We've worked as hard as we can," she said of the district. "Over the next two years, I'll be cutting $20 million out of the central office... It's really important work -- it's the right work to do but it is really challenging..."
Cordova said she toured close to a dozen schools Monday morning and said she saw a wide range of situations at the schools, from calm and productive days to stranger ones.
When asked if some substitute teachers were "in over their head," Cordova said that at the schools she visited, she didn't see anything like that.
"Students are walking out, obviously," she added.
While students told 9NEWS they were told to leave, Cordova said that wasn't true and that it was the students' decisions to leave campus.
"Inside [East High], it's very calm," she explained. "Very quiet, very orderly - not a lot of kids left so we understand that. The commotion started when the students decided to walk out."
Students also walked out of South High School by the hundreds earlier in the day. Cordova said that all students who miss classes for the strike will receive an unexcused absence. Classes will be in session for its duration.
Families at Centennial Elementary School described a quite, almost mundane school day.
"Barely any teachers were there," said fifth grader, Greyson Cruwys. "We did some free-time stuff and... we did learn a little, too."
"I think it’s a bit disappointing though that we even have to go through this," said Cruwys mother, Shannon Cruwys. "It was upsetting to go to school this morning and see our teachers outside in the cold rather than in the school and the classrooms. I hope they come to a resolution soon."
Cruwys said she supports the teachers.
"I want our teachers to get what they deserve," she said.
But she also appreciates how her son's school handled the school day without most teachers.
"The school did a really good job of communicating what to expect today, the classes and how everything else was going to be structured," she said. "And pick up was breeze, but I feel like there [were] not a lot of kids that came to school today."
Many people were in attendance Monday afternoon at the striking teachers' rally around 2 p.m. on the steps of the state's Capitol building. Besides marchers holding signs and playing "I Need A Dollar" by Aloe Blacc on traditional band instruments, the two top negotiators for DCTA -- Rob Gould and President Henry Ramon -- spoke to the gathered crowd.
"The district thinks they can wait us out," Roman told the cheering crowd. "We will show them that they are no longer allowed to dictate the terms of the agreement because we are the professionals in the classroom and we know what works best for our kids."
Gould told the crowd they would fight on Tuesday when negotiations began again for a simple pay structure that ends "random bonuses." He was referring to the ProComp portion of the Denver teachers' contract.
The Denver Classroom Teachers Association and the district have been in talks over the ProComp portion of their contract for the last 15 months. The ProComp deals with compensation and the union has asked that the money DPS is offering to give them to base pay instead of incentive pay, which the district has continued to offer.
The latest round of talks between the district and the union broke down on Saturday after six hours of negotiating. DCTA and DPS could not agree on where the increased money for teachers should go. The next scheduled round of talks is set for Tuesday night.
Almost 3,000 of the district's 4,300 teachers are a part of DCTA. The district's 92,000 students are being taught by substitutes and administration staff brought in to help. At last check, 2,200 teachers walked off the job on Monday.
In an email to parents on Sunday, the district again gave parents some suggestions on how they might mitigate the trouble caused by the strike. Parents are asked to remember that DPS staff will be at each campus to make sure students are safe during the school day. Students in grades Kindergarten through 12th Grade should attend school as normal, but pre-school classes are canceled; parents won't be charged tuition while ECE classes are out. All DPS schools will provide their normal services like meals, transportation and Discovery Link before and after school programs. Any parents interested in volunteering with their local school during the strike are asked to head to this link to apply.
There is also a Family Helpline set up for people to call. It’s open between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. and the number is 720-423-3054.
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