Denver Public Schools, now facing the prospect of a teachers' strike, apologized for an email that mistakenly led some to believe that it would report immigrant educators with visas to immigration and State Department authorities if they walk out.
"We understand that an incorrect communication was provided by a DPS employee regarding our educators on H-1B and J-1 visas," school system spokesman Will Jones said in a statement Thursday.
"The error was the result of a misinterpretation of the information that we received from our immigration firm, and the communication was in no way intended to cause fear for our educators on visas. Our deepest apologies for any anxiety that was caused by this error."
Denver teachers overwhelmingly voted to strike late Tuesday. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association announced that 93% of its members approved a strike after negotiations failed.
Thursday, the Colorado People's Alliance , an activist group, flagged the school district email that spurred fears and anger and issued a comment on its Facebook page.
"DPS sent out an email to a school saying they have to report some immigrant teachers (those with a visa) to the government if they choose to strike -- that's NOT RIGHT! If DPS claims to want to welcome and protect their immigrant students, why are they lying to and intimidating their immigrant teachers about their right to strike??"
The school district statement said it has to tell the US Labor Department that a strike has begun because of "requirements of the Labor Condition Applications, that are part of the H-1B process. However, DPS does not inform the government of the names of employees who are participating in a strike. "
"DPS will not be collecting information or reporting information to immigration (USCIS) or the U.S. Department of State about any individuals decision to strike or not strike. We will work to correct this misunderstanding immediately. Again, we are deeply apologetic for this misunderstanding."
DPS said the law firm it retained for immigration issues and visa processing has posted guidance for educators on H1-B visas.
"The district will do everything in our lawful power to protect our students' and teachers' confidential information and ensure that our students' learning environments are not disrupted by immigration enforcement actions," Jones said in the statement.
Teachers want overhaul of compensation system
The union had been negotiating with the district for 14 months to overhaul the compensation system, which it says is directly linked to the city's teacher turnover rate.
But it's unclear if and when a strike will occur. The district, hoping differences can be resolved, asked Wednesday for the state to step in.
"We filed a request with the State Department of Labor to intervene and help us reach a resolution. We are asking that the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment take jurisdiction of the dispute," said School Superintendent Susana Cordova.
"We're concerned that a strike would cause the loss of instructional time, would disrupt our students' ability to receive food and medical care services, and could create a financial hardship for DPS families."
The teachers said the union has been told that the district "officially requested intervention from the State in an effort to delay our strike."
"Until the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment decides whether or not they will intervene, we are not able to strike. This means that DCTA bargaining unit members should report to work until we hear otherwise," the teachers' union said Wednesday.