Community rallies to support Douglas County teachers

'It makes us feel so good'

Posted

Gina Claus began to cry as she reflected on how difficult recent months have been on educators. Claus is a teacher at Castle Rock Middle School, and a single mother of four.

As Douglas County School District schools prepare for “hybrid learning,” a program under which students will attend class in-person two days a week and online three days a week beginning later this month, she still has not found child care for her two school-age children.

That pressure looms over her as Claus transitions from a challenging end to the previous school year into a new year filled with unknowns.

Teachers were thrust into remote learning last spring suddenly and without training, she said. She received comments from community members saying teachers were not doing anything, when in reality “we were doing three times as much work,” she said.

Claus was hurt this year when someone hung a sign at another district school reading “Defund DCSD, Fire Teachers.” These days, she stays off social media to avoid further negativity, she said.

Claus is taking every day, as a teacher and as a mother, “minute by minute,” she said.

That’s why she felt moved to tears when several community members showed up at her school on Monday, rallying in support of teachers and district staff.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “It’s very refreshing, because we’ve been under attack.”

Co-organizers Susan Thayer and Juli Watkins, each parents of Douglas County School District students, said they organized Monday's rallies in response to the “Defund DCSD” sign and a rally roughly one week earlier in which parents called on the district to fully reopen schools.

“Sometimes that stuff hits harder than the positive,” Thayer said. “That’s kind of what spurred us on.”

Community members gathered at Castle Rock Middle School, Castle View High School, Meadow View Elementary and other area schools.

Thayer and Watkins said they believe the overwhelming majority of the school community supports teachers. They know educators and school staff are working hard, the women said.

Watkins called people critical of teachers and district staff during the pandemic “a loud minority,” and worried teachers took negative comments directed at them to heart.

“We just wanted to be sure that the people who work for the district are supported by the community,” she said. “They really are becoming frontline workers.”

Douglas County School District Superintendent Thomas Tucker condemned the “Defund DCSD, Fire Teachers” sign in a letter he wrote to the entire district community. Teachers did not make the decision to operate on the hybrid learning model, he said, and are working hard to prepare for the 2020-21 school year.

School board directors have also begged community members not to direct hate or anger toward teachers. Tucker noted in his letter that emotions in the community are high and run the gamut.

Board President David Ray said during the board’s July 25 meeting — when directors unanimously approved hybrid learning — he was already receiving hate mail regarding the decision.

Directors including Elizabeth Hanson made impassioned pleas to community members to support educators, also adding board directors were the decision makers and not teachers.

Castle View High School teacher Alison Harrison said she felt “kind of devastated” by the “Defund DCSD” sign.

Teachers are not only doing normal preparations for the school year but also learning new online platforms for the delivery of education, putting in extra hours and fearful for the health of loved ones during the pandemic.

“A lot of us have older parents,” she said.  

She choked up as the community members waved signs and cheered for teachers outside her school on Monday, she said. Harrison said she believes most in the community are supportive of educators, but that the rallies “really means a lot to us.”

“It makes us feel so good. It really does,” she said. “There have been a lot of negative things that we have hard recently, so this just makes us feel appreciated.”

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