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If DPS' mental health staff strikes with teachers, some students could have a longer school year. Here's why

If teachers in Denver walk out of school, mental health providers could walk out with them. That could mean students who need them will have a longer school year.

DENVER — If teachers in Denver walk out of school, mental health providers could walk out with them.

Denver Public Schools said they have about 700 Special Service Providers, or SSPs, including the social workers, the school counselors, the psychologists and more.

Their absence could be difficult for students in crisis.

Robert Frantum-Allen, the district’s director of special education, told 9NEWS they have no idea how many are striking, a move approved by the teachers' union on Tuesday after salary negotiations soured.

“I don’t have any concrete numbers at this particular point,” he said. “We have to prepare as if every single one is going to go on strike, so we can make sure we have coverage on all of our sites.”

Like the teachers, SSPs will be replaced with retired teachers, central office employees and substitutes. Because people in SSP positions need specialized licenses, the district said they will also tap into private agencies.

The problem is making sure the most vulnerable kids have the particular care they need.

“We have a shortage for special education teachers and SSPs across the country,” said Frantum-Allen.

“We are going to deploy the people that we have access to,” Frantum-Allen added. “That’s going to be our first priority, and if we need to make up services afterwards, we’re willing to go forth and do that.”

If the strike shortens the amount of time a student has with their SSP, Frantum-Allen said it could mean adding additional minutes onto the school year or offering a summer programming for those students, who are entitled time with an SSP. 

If someone needs help right away, Frantum-Allen said they can use the crisis team hotline.

“We’ll have a crisis team already on-call and ready to go just like we always do,” he said.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis' office said Wednesday that he's not sure if he'll formally get involved in the DPS strike. The district requested such involvement earlier in the day, which put state labor department rules dictating a strike's timing into effect. The state labor department said there's now a 10-day period for the union to respond to the district's request for intervention, and a 14-day decision period to follow. The state labor department told 9NEWS that it did not have the discretion to waive that protocol.

As of now, the union says it's "highly unlikely" that teachers could strike starting Monday, as was expected.

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