Douglas County school board controversy: A timeline of what led to superintendent’s firing, teacher protests and more

· Feb. 3, 2022, 6:07 pm
2202013-DOUGLAS-COUNTY-TEACHERS-RALLY-WISE2202013-DOUGLAS-COUNTY-TEACHERS-RALLY-WISEHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Supporters of Douglas County Schools Superintendent Corey Wise rally in front of the department’s headquarters in Castle Rock on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022.

There have been months of rising tension in Douglas County over what’s going on at the school district.

The county broke ties with Tri-County Health Department and created its own board of health that dropped a school mask mandate — and that was all before a slate of conservative school board members was elected in November. 

Teachers are called in sick en masse, forcing schools to close, and protesting outside of the district office in Castle Rock. A day later, the school board voted 4-3 to fire Superintendent Corey Wise during a contentious emergency meeting.

What led to this point in Douglas County? Here’s a look back at what’s happened so far. 


2021

October 8: A newly created Douglas County Board of Health issues a public health order saying that schools, facilities, and businesses in the county no longer have to wear masks, allowing people to opt out of a mandate.

October 20: The school district along with nine families sues the county health department on behalf of students with disabilities that made them susceptible to complications from COVID infections.

October 26: A judge grants a restraining order ruling blocking the mask opt-outs, saying it violated the Americans With Disabilities Act.

November 4: The Kids First slate of Mike Peterson, Becky Myers, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar win decisively in the Douglas County school board election, ejecting two incumbents and promising to give parents a place at the education table. The race was one of Colorado’s most contentious and hard-fought, after a year of heated public comment periods during school board meetings. The winning slate’s campaign manager Holly Osborne said on election night, “they don't want to run over anyone with ultra-conservative ideas. They truly want all sides to work together for kids first.”

December 7: School board majority votes to hire Will Trachman as an outside legal counsel, over the objections of the other three members due to cost and other concerns.

December 8: School board majority drops mask mandate immediately, after hours of public comment dominated by those opposed to mask requirements.

2022

January 14: Director David Ray files complaints regarding board president Mike Peterson’s alleged conflict of interests and releasing a joint statement and appearing in a video with county leaders about COVID-19 without consulting other board members.

January 25: Board majority votes to change equity policy that had been adopted the previous year. The same day 65 principals and central office staff ask the board to keep the equity policy intact.

January 28: According to three board members — Susan Meek, David Ray, and Elizabeth Hanson — board president Mike Peterson and vice-president Christy Williams meet with Superintendent Corey Wise and issue an ultimatum: resign or they will take a vote on having him fired. The meeting may have violated Colorado’s open meeting laws. 

January 31: The three board members host a Zoom public meeting to discuss Peterson’s and Williams’ phone calls with them regarding their meeting with Wise. At least 1,300 people tune in.

February 2: District closes schools Thursday because too many teachers have called in absent to protest the school board majority’s actions. 

February 4: The school board holds an emergency meeting in which the members debate the January meeting and the ultimatum given to Wise. The conservative majority moves forward with a motion to terminate Wise's contract without cause, despite pleas from board member and Wise himself to postpone any action. The motion to fire Wise passes 4-3.

Also Friday, a Highlands Ranch resident has filed a lawsuit against four members of the school district’s board, alleging they broke Colorado’s open meetings law during discussions that led up to the termination of the superintendent. The lawsuit was filed in Douglas County district court Friday in an unsuccessful attempt to halt an emergency board meeting that afternoon.

February 5: More than 80 school board presidents and vice presidents from other districts signed onto a letter highlighting their concerns about the way the termination was handled. Board members from districts in Summit County, Boulder Valley, Englewood, Aurora, Eagle County, Denver and others said they were “shocked and disappointed by the unprecedented” action to terminate Superintendent Wise.

“Removing an effective superintendent like Corey Wise without cause, without opportunity for public engagement, and despite strong and vocal pushback from teachers, students, and staff is a failure of governance,” the letter states.

February 7: Hundreds of students wearing black from across Douglas County walked out of school to protest the firing of Wise and the proposed changes in the district’s equity policy. At 1 p.m. students streamed out of high schools and even middle schools in some places. They had cowbells and signs and a number of chants: “equity for all,” “support our staff,” “Justice for Corey.”

February 16: The school board moves forward with the process of hiring a new superintendent and posts the job externally at the first meeting held since the removal of Wise. The board decides to vote on a finalist in early March. Meanwhile, a public records request of the names of teachers who requested an absence on Feb. 3 — the day of the planned teacher protest — is withdrawn.

February 18: Former superintendent Wise and two law firms representing formally request records — including communications among school board members about his job performance and termination — from the Douglas County School Board in preparation for "future litigation" concerning his termination.

February 25: A Douglas County District Court held a hearing for a lawsuit filed by a county resident over a potential violation of state open meetings law by four conservative majority members of the school board. The lawsuit seeks a preliminary injunction to prevent future meetings like one held Jan. 28 that may have been illegal. Judge Jeffrey K. Holmes did not issue a ruling.

March 11: A Douglas County School Board special meeting was called to discuss a preliminary injunction issued by a judge ordering members to follow the state's open meeting laws. The meeting was met with indignation by some members who criticized the number of special meetings called by the board.

March 22: The school board met to vote on a new superintendent. The finalists were Erin Kane, a charter school leader and former superintendent of the district and Danny Winsor, a district administrator who oversees schools in the Parker region.

March 23: In a 4 to 3 vote, the Douglas County School board voted to hire Erin Kane as the district's next superintendent. She was backed by the board's conservative majority.

March 29: The Douglas Country School Board votes 5 to 1 to approve the contract for the new superintendent, Erin Kane. A swing
vote came from board member Elizabeth Hanson. Between the board's other two minority members, Susan Meeks was the lone "no" vote, and David Ray declined to attend the meeting in protest.

April 13: Former superintendent Wise filed a discrimination and retaliation complaint with federal and state offices against the school district and the four conservative board members. A precursor to a lawsuit, the complaint alleged his termination was unlawful because of his advocacy on behalf of protected classes such as students with disabilities, youth and staff of color and LGBTQ+ individuals.

Editor's note: This article was updated on April 14 with new developments.

You care.

You want to know what is really going on these days, especially in Colorado. We can help you keep up.  The Lookout is a free, daily email newsletter with news and happenings from all over Colorado. Sign up here and we will see you in the morning!