Denver’s North High students walk out in solidarity with beloved Latino teacher placed on leave

Students at Denver’s North High School walked out of their classrooms Thursday morning to support teacher Tim Hernández, who the district placed on administrative leave last week after he marched with them in an earlier protest held after the school didn’t renew the educator’s contract.

The protest is the second time in two weeks that students have left their classrooms to protest the school’s failure to keep Hernández, one of the few Latino teachers at the school and a resident of the Northside community, on staff.

“They’re taking away our BIPOC ( Black, Indigenous, and people of color) teachers and trying to silence us,” said Hope Navarro-Alvarez, 16, a student of Hernández and who was at the protest. “This is just going to make us louder. We won’t stop the fight until we get what we want. We want Mr. Hernandez back at North.”

Navarro-Alvarez helped organize the march, saying that Hernández created a safe space for Latino students and the administration is taking it away. The school and district aren’t retaining BIPOC teachers, she said.

Hernández has also encouraged members of the community to support BIPOC teachers at a meeting held by the district’s school board Thursday evening.

Roughly 30 teenagers participated in the protest and police were present. The teens walked from North High to the district’s Emily Griffith campus downtown, where school board meetings are held.

They carried signs that read “Mr. Hernandez is North.” and “No more classroom gentrification.” Before they arrived district security placed barricades around the entrance of the building and several armed guards were standing outside.

Denver Public Schools “respect (students) right and their freedom to protest and express themselves in a peaceful manner,” said district spokesman Scott Pribble.

A group of the students protesting met with district administrators and Tay Anderson, vice president of the school board, during the protest, said Will Jones, a district spokesman.

Student Veneno Quezada-Montoya said he feels at home when he walks into Hernandez’s classroom.

“Mr. Hernandez is the reason I go to school every day,” The 15-year-old said. “They are taking away the only community I know. He’s the one educator who looks like us and can relate to us.”

The more recent protest comes after students previously walked out after Hernández was told his teaching contract would not be renewed despite support from the English department and multiple community events the educator put on for his student. The educator was placed on administrative leave on May 13 because he left his classroom duties to march with his students.

Hernández was hired at North High, a predominately Latino school, as a traditional teacher in 2021, but the following year was told the school did not have enough money to retain him in the role. He was then hired for an associate teaching position, which paid less and came with a one-year contract.

Hernández has said he applied for an open teaching position for next year, but school administrators told him he did not interview well enough for his contract to be renewed.

He has said the decision was retaliatory based on classes with the school’s principal about diversity and equity issues. Hernández has also spoken publicly about the burnout educators are facing since returning to the classroom during the pandemic.

“Denver Public Schools has followed all of the hiring procedures that are in place to ensure their hiring process is fair and equitable,” Pribble said. “We stand by the personnel committees work, to ensure that all candidates had an equal opportunity and then hired the candidates they believed were most qualified for the open positions at at North High School.”

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