By Kati Weis

DENVER (CBS4) – A policy change announced the Friday before Thanksgiving break has some teachers in Denver Public Schools considering taking a leave of absence, saying the change forces them to choose between their jobs or the safety of their families.

This summer, the district offered special accommodations for teachers with at-risk family members to be able to work remotely. Teachers understood those accommodations would last until the end of the pandemic.

(credit: CBS)

However, in an internal email to staff on Friday, November 20, the district wrote, “given DPS’ operational need for more in-person work, we will not be able to offer fully remote work to employees with at-risk household members.”

The email went on to say existing remote accommodations for staff members with at-risk family members will last until Dec. 31.

“That feels like you are devaluing the lives of my family members,” said one DPS teacher, who wished to remain anonymous. “It feels like I was told one thing at the beginning of the year, and that is something that made me feel safe to do my job… and now it feels like they are taking that back.”

That teacher is now considering taking a leave of absence, and says other colleagues in similar circumstances are also weighing their options.

Internal emails obtained by CBS4 Investigates show back in the summer, the district told staff members the accommodations would be in place until the governor’s executive orders were “extended, rescinded, suspended, or amended.”

Gov. Jared Polis did issue a new executive order on Nov. 17, but that order still strongly encourages employers to “provide reasonable work accommodations for individuals who reside with or are caring for individuals at risk.”

“It seems to me the governor’s order has gotten more strict,” the anonymous teacher told CBS4. “So, how is that as things are becoming more strict and more closed down, that now is the time to revoke an accommodation that is meant to keep my family safe?”

(credit: CBS)

DPS declined an interview, and did not answer written questions asking what led to the policy change, and instead issued the following statement to CBS4 about the decision:

“We are accepting requests for accommodations consistent with the Governor’s order, which encourages accommodations for individuals who have at-risk household members or lack child and elder care due to the pandemic. Initial accommodation approval letters from the summer expire December 31, 2020. Whether the district is conducting in-person or remote instruction for some or all of our school population, we will continue to rely upon the latest health data and consult with public health officials.”

Both Jeffco and Cherry Creek School Districts tell CBS4 they are not considering similar policy changes at this time.

Kati Weis