Douglas County school board controversy: A timeline of what led to superintendent’s firing, teacher protests and more
Updated: May 31, 2023.
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.
May 30: The lawsuit against Mike Peterson, Becky Myers, Kaylee Winegar and Christy Williams for violating Colorado's open meeting laws winds its way through court proceedings. The judge who initially ruled that there is evidence to demostrate that the four broke the law denied their request for a trial by jury. That's because the case doesn't involve monetary damages and the board failed to file a jury fee by a state-mandated deadline. The case will be decided by Douglas County District Court Judge Jeffrey Holmes and the trial is expected in mid-June.
May 23-24: Amid protests over racism in the district and more than a year of controversy, the Douglas County School Board passed on a 4-to-2 vote a revised equity policy board members say strikes a compromise on a polarizing issue during a meeting that stretched until 2 a.m the next day. The meeting on the policy began with one board member, Elizabeth Hanson resigning, accusing the board of egregious politicization.
April 17: Former superintendent Corey Wise and the district reached a settlement in a discrimination and retaliation complaint against the district and four members of the school board more than a year after he was fired by the board’s new majority. The district paid Wise more than $832,000 in the settlement.
Nov. 8: The hotly contested school funding measure fails to pass voters in Douglas County. Tax measures have historically been difficult to pass in the conservative county, but urbulence in the school district didn’t help.
Aug. 23: The bitterly divided school board came together for the first time for a critical vote that could pay teachers more and build new schools. The seven-member board will vote on sending a $60 million mill levy override — property tax increase — and $450 million bond to the November ballot. All seven board members have already publicly voiced support for the measure.
June 24: A newly released audio recording of a coffee meeting between former Douglas County superintendent Corey Wise and two school board members shows them giving him an ultimatum: They would fire him for cause if he didn’t resign in a few days.
June 15: The Douglas County School District faces another lawsuit over actions by the school board. This one asks a Douglas County District Court to require the records manager of Colorado’s third-largest district to explain why they won’t publicly share documents from a training retreat under the Colorado Open Records Act.
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.
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.
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 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 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 9: A Douglas County District Court granted a preliminary injunction against School Board President Mike Peters, Vice President Christy Williams and members Kaylee Winegar and Becky Myers, forcing them to comply with Colorado’s open meetings law. They were ordered not to discuss public business or take formal action by three or more members of the board — either as a group or through a series of meetings — unless those meetings are open to the public.
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.
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 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 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 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 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 2: District closes schools Thursday because too many teachers have called in absent to protest the school board majority’s actions.
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.
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 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 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.
December 8: School board majority drops mask mandate immediately, after hours of public comment dominated by those opposed to mask requirements.
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.
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.”
October 26: A judge grants a restraining order ruling blocking the mask opt-outs, saying it violated the Americans With Disabilities Act.
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 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.
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