What started Aug. 21 with one man picketing at the Douglas County Schools Administration building in Castle Rock grew to more than 30 parents, retired teachers and union officials Aug. 27. All said they were there to support teachers and protest recent decisions by the Douglas County School Board.
A few passing drivers honked horns, waved or called out “thank you” as they passed on Wilcox Street.
Retired Douglas County schoolteacher and Anglican priest Robert Herrell started protesting alone late on the morning of Aug. 21. Herrell, who suffered a recent illness that requires him to carry an oxygen tank, said he planned to do so every Tuesday and Thursday in an effort to alert the community to controversies surrounding the school district.
Herrell said the expiration of the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the district set off an alarm in him.
“In my opinion, we’re being stonewalled out of having good representation that kept both sides honest,” he said. “I think the community’s been fooled. Sadly, too many are still hurting for money and so busy, they aren’t worried about it too much.”
Herrell wrote a Facebook post about his Aug. 21 protest on a page dedicated to Douglas County teachers. About 1o others joined him Aug. 23, agreeing to return Aug. 27 and rallying on Facebook for others to join the effort.
“I’m a product of the ‘60s,” said retired district employee Randi Allison. “I would go to jail happily to fight for what’s right for children.”
Allison’s concerned about the way board members are approaching the education reform efforts they say voters elected them to enact.
“Reform doesn’t mean what the board is doing: degrading, dismantling, decimating,” said Allison, adding she knows teachers who fear talking about their concerns will cost them their jobs. “This has to stop.”
Retired elementary principal Mike Dubrovich said he’s there to support teachers.
“They’re getting a bad deal from this school board,” he said, adding that the board’s reform efforts “are part of a national effort by the Republican party to destroy public employee unions.”
Heather Ertle, protesting with her elementary school-aged daughter Abbey, said she became alarmed by the board’s actions early in the summer.
“I am shocked at how ignorant I have been,” she said. “This has all been kind of quietly going on underneath our noses. The board’s touting transparency and they have none. I would love for more people to educate themselves.”
District officials said the picketing was unfortunate, noting the district is implementing a world-class education system it believes will help Douglas County School District graduates succeed in a global workforce.
“We are implementing a systemic plan to transform and unfortunately, the defenders of the status quo continue to fight over paying union officers with taxpayer dollars and collecting union dues,” said an email sent by spokeswoman Cinamon Watson.
Those two practices were among several sources of conflict in the failed union negotiations, and the subject of renewed, recent controversy.
Herrell said he made the decision to protest on his own, denying accusations by some that it was a union-engineered event.