Parent of child with special needs concerned about substitutes in event of DPS teacher strike

DENVER -- With a Denver Public Schools teacher strike looming and thousands of substitutes ready to take their place in the classroom, a local mother is worried they won’t be qualified to teach her child and hundreds of others in the district with special needs.

“The minute I told him (about the strike), he teared up and said, 'Mom, no, we have to fight,'” Heather Bunch said.

Six-year-old Gavin Bunch has formed a special bond with his kindergarten teacher at Denver Green School.

“He really looks up to him,” Heather said.

Gavin was diagnosed with autism at 2 years old. His mother said he has a major speech delay and the need for consistency. But now, five months into the school year, she’s seen a drastic improvement in Gavin.

“At the start of the school year, he wasn’t able to really talk much or read. And since working with his teacher, and the special needs services – he’s reading stories to me now,” Bunch said.

But Bunch is worried. With 93 percent of unionized Denver teachers voting to strike, Gavin’s teacher would walk out in the name of fair pay. He would be replaced with a substitute.

“I think if that happens he (Gavin) will go backwards. Are they going to know his IEP? How to work with him?” Bunch asked.

One Denver special needs teacher agrees with Bunch. She voted “no” on the strike.

“A sub wouldn’t work. I think the difference in the two salary schedules isn’t enough to put our students and families behind,” she said.

FOX31 reached out to DPS. It said: “We will prioritize our students with special needs in the deployment of alternative staffing arrangements.”

For Bunch, that doesn’t sit well. For each day that passes, anxiety builds up in Gavin about who will step in.

“I understand the strike for the teachers. They deserve the raise. But I need the teachers to stay consistent,” Bunch said.

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