Douglas County teachers rally for safe return to schools

'What is school going to look like?'


Cally Macosko-Jones stood outside the Douglas County School District administration building in Castle Rock as her teacher's union president met inside with Superintendent Thomas Tucker.

Macosko-Jones waved a sign at passing cars reading “Safe road to return: COVID testing for teachers and staff.”

The English teacher at Legend High School in Parker was one of dozens of Douglas County Federation union members gathered outside the district building Wednesday, rallying for a safe reopening of schools in August.

It's easy to look at Douglas County's death and case rate and say there is not a high-risk of COVID-19 in the Douglas County area, she said, Legend's loss made the pandemic more real.

“How do we prepare students for another loss like that? How do we prepare staff for another loss like that?” she said.

The teachers' union, which does not have a collective bargaining agreement with the district, wants several precautions in place before schools reopen, DCF President Kallie Leyba said.

Those include spacing desks 6 feet apart, requiring masks of all students and staff, a staggered schedule, virtual staff meetings, clear protocols for dealing with an outbreak in schools and weekly COVID-19 testing for teachers.

Some teachers at the rally said they did not have enough answers from the district about how schools would operate in the 2020-21 school year. The school board is scheduled to hold an all-day meeting on July 25 to finalize its plans.

For David Garrett, a high school and special education teacher in the district, rallying was a call on the district to provide clearer answers. Garret did not want to say which school he works for but rallied with his wife, also a district teacher, and their three children.

He wanted to know if he would be responsible for cleaning his classroom throughout the day, and more details on what protocols will be if he's required to quarantine. He wondered if he would have to use his sick time if exposed.

“We haven't heard anything from the district,” he said. “What is school going to look like?”

Leyba said she shares teachers' frustrations.

“I think the level of detail that we've been given has been slower than that of other districts,” Leyba said.

Leyba said she felt optimistic after her meeting with Tucker that afternoon. She took several union members with her who shared personal stories about the virus' impact.

Leyba said she felt Tucker listened to them, and she told him the union would not protect teachers who refused to follow the district's social-distancing protocols, like wearing masks.

The union is not taking the same hard stance as others in the state, she said.

The Jefferson County Education Association called on its district to delay the school year after surveys shows more teachers would request online assignments than would be available, which the district eventually did.

Thousands of teachers in the Colorado Education Association, which says it represents 35,000 teachers and education staff across the state, said they would refuse to return to work unless certain demands were met. Those demands included releasing disease data publicly and including educators in decision making.

The thought of a teacher risking their health and safety by teaching brought Leyba to tears the first time she considered the possibility of a teacher getting COVID-19.

“I'm really worried we're going to lose a student,” she said.
Still, Leyba hoped the rally showed the community Douglas County teachers are committed to keeping their children safe.

The district updates the portion of its plans posted online on a rolling basis. As of July 22, the district stated everyone inside buildings — students and staff — are required to wear a mask.

Earlier information released by the district suggested recommending masks at the elementary school level but not requiring them.

Andrea Meyers, a retired teacher who now works as a substitute in the district, said she wants clear and uniform guidelines in place across the district. At age 66, she's not willing to take the same risks a younger person might with COVID-19, she said.

Mostly, she wants to have a clear understanding of what rules will be regardless of where she serves as a substitute this year.

“When you're a substitute you're going into multiple buildings,” she said. “So, we need protocol that's good in every building.”


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