Principals Told They Must Conform To District’s Political Viewpoints

Denver principals are being told that they have to adopt and conform to the district's viewpoints and can't voice dissenting opinions

By Rick Gonzales | Published

denver principals

Bite thy tongue. Well, at least during work hours. And, while you’re at it, Denver principals, you might also want to stay in line with school district decision-making, especially when it concerns any proposed laws on which principals may not agree with the district.

Not that it was a warning to Denver principals, but a letter sent to each and signed by Denver Public Schools’ Chief of Talent, Edwin Hudson, advised that “While we acknowledge and respect your rights as an individual citizen to advocate with government officials, we do expect you to support the direction and decisions of the district when you are acting within your work capacity.” So, during work hours, Denver school principals will not be using any district resources (computers, phones) if they so happen to have the opposite opinion from the school district.

Not only that but Denver principals were also “advised” to keep any concerns they may have about school district policies, strategies, procedures, or decisions within the boundaries of their schools and to report them only to their supervisors. Per Hudson, it is “particularly important” to follow these rules “when you are speaking with your staff and/or your school communities.” In the past, apparently, Denver principals have been known to use their school emails to inform parents about such things as possible budget cuts and policy changes that may impact them and if concerned, parents should contact school board members.

Hudson explained that when Denver principals offer their own personal views on specific matters that oppose the school superintendent’s views, it can cause a lot of mistrust and confusion. “We’re not about squashing speech,” Hudson said. “This is about our community receiving one consistent message.” So, basically squashing speech.

Speech squashing and, according to Alex Magaña, the executive director at Beacon Network Schools, fear. When Denver principals got the letter, Magaña said it “caused a lot of fear among leaders.” It goes directly against the obligation school principal have to be honest and forthright with families.

Although Hudson would not offer much detail or name names, he did point out that one impetus for the letter was that certain unprofessional messages were sent out by Denver principals using district computers or its internet service. There are also a number of specific controversial issues that have put principals in direct opposition with district leaders.

Just last month, the Denver Public Schools passed an autonomy-limiting policy against Denver’s semi-autonomous innovation schools. This decision was more of a managerial one, so says Xochitl ‘Sochi’ Gaytan, the President of the Board of Education, via The Denver Channel. “This executive limitation is around teacher rights and protections for all teachers across the district.” Then Gaytan added, “This does not take away the creativity and the innovation that Innovation Schools have the flexibility to do in their schools.”

Another controversy the school district is facing is that they are currently in the process of closing down or consolidating a number of schools because of falling enrollment numbers. Hudson said that his letter to the Denver principals would also cover the declining enrollment situation as well. If principals decided to go against school district “advisement” and speak out of turn during school hours, consequences may follow.

“There are consequences if you are contrary and using school resources to do that and not being professional and inclusive,” Hudson said. “Are there consequences because you might think a little different than I do? No.”

The focus appears to be circling around Senate Bill 22-197, which Hudson speaks directly to in his letter to Denver Principals. “Because the superintendent has stated publicly that the district is opposed to the bill, it would not be appropriate to advocate for SB 22-197 during your work time, in your official capacity, or using district resources,” Hudson wrote in the letter. “It would not be appropriate to rally school communities to take action in favor of this bill.” The bill concerns innovation zones, or groups of innovation schools, and would give these zones a path to challenge any district decision.

Hudson’s letter to Denver principals appears to be stressing what is already in the Denver Public Schools employee handbook. It says that school district employees “may advocate in their professional capacities on behalf of legislation that is consistent with the district’s mission and values.” Per the Denver School Leaders Association contract, principals and assistant principals are allowed to speak on any political activity and voice their opinions as long as they do so outside of their school work hours.

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