Douglas County schools to close Thursday as teachers call ‘sick out’ to protest school board majority

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The Douglas County School bus depot in. Castle Rock October 25, 2021.

Updated at 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 3: On Thursday, hundreds of teachers, students and parents rallied at Douglas County schools headquarters in below-freezing temperatures to protest recent actions taken by the school board. Read our story from the rally.

Our original story follows below.

Schools in Douglas County will be closed Thursday after hundreds of district employees asked for substitute teachers. It’s part of a protest against several actions by the newly elected school board majority, including asking the superintendent to quit or be fired, according to three school board members.

By mid-day Wednesday, there were close to 1,500 unfilled teacher absences Thursday. There are about 3,300 licensed teachers in the district. 

The district canceled preschool through high school classes because “the number of absences has impacted our ability to provide a safe and supervised learning environment for students,” the district wrote in an email.

The district said families attending charter schools should check to see whether they are open Thursday.

A rally against the school board majority is planned for 1 p.m. Thursday outside the district’s headquarters in Castle Rock that’s expected to draw hundreds of families, teachers, and other school staff. 

“After much deliberation, the difficult decision to rally was made, in conjunction with parents and community members, to take a stand against actions that are harmful to students and staff,” said Kevin DiPasquale, president of the Douglas County Federation, which represents classified and certified staff.

The mass sick day for teachers and the planned rally is the latest in rising tensions and tumult in the school district that started last year. 

Four new conservative-leaning board members turned over the board in the November election, pushed into office by a wave of parents and others opposed to masks in school. The board quickly eliminated the mask mandate, voted to change the district’s equity policy, and now appears poised to oust the district’s top leader, according to three members of the board of education.

The three — Elizabeth Hanson, David Ray and Susan Meek — said board president Mike Peterson and vice-president Christy Williams told them the two had met privately with Superintendent Corey Wise last week. Peterson and Williams told Wise, who has been with the district more than 25 years, that he could quit or be fired.

The three board members detailed the events at a public meeting on Zoom Monday night. They said the private meeting violated Colorado’s open meetings law and that they were disturbed that there had been no prior discussion of any performance inadequacies on the part of Wise.

In a statement Tuesday, Peterson said any formal decision regarding the superintendent’s employment status will take place during a public meeting, as required by law.

“Last week’s conversation was to provide our superintendent with information needed to participate in an ongoing discussion. I will continue to engage all board directors on this matter,” he said in the statement.

Another issue that has angered some parents and school officials is the fear that the new board majority wants to dismantle the district’s equity policy. A new resolution passed by the board last week directs the superintendent to recommend changes to the equity policy that reflect the new principles in the resolution. One of those is that no policy should “impose stereotypical beliefs and actions of an identity group onto a student.”

Supporters of the policy say that is not the intent of the original policy, which was passed unanimously last spring. They say the intent is to guide the predominantly white district in addressing unfair practices and complaints of racism, and to make student resources more representative of different groups of people. It creates an equity advisory committee, which has already met several times, to assist the school in this task.

Fifty-two principals and 13 central office staff signed a letter to the board Jan. 25, asking the board to let the equity policy stand as written. They encouraged the board to let the advisory committee do its work and consider multiple perspectives.

The board member who drafted the proposal said the new resolution isn’t rewriting the equity policy. Kaylee Winegar said it's meant to get more public input about how the word equity is used in schools, which she claimed has led to “shaming and retaliation against teachers, students and staff who express views and opinions that are counter to others’ views and opinions.”

Previous coverage of the Douglas County School District: