Douglas County school board member resigns during a meeting over ‘politicization’ of the embroiled board

Jenny Brundin/CPR News
Former Douglas County school board member Elizabeth Hanson hugs fellow member Susan Meek after resigning on Tuesday, May 23, 2023.

Accusing the school board majority of egregious politicization of board business, Douglas County School Board member Elizabeth Hanson resigned at a school board meeting Tuesday night, walking out of the room and heading home.

“I have made the heart-wrenching decision that I can no longer be part of it ... because politics and ego are the primary agenda of this board,” she said. “I will never understand how politics get a larger voice in this district than our students and our leaders.”

She said her goal in resigning is to create awareness in the community about what is happening and become part of the solution.

Hanson, whose term would have expired in November, was one of three of seven board members who have tried steadfastly to keep the board majority from revising an equity policy that was many years in the making. The board was also expected to revise policies on mental health, bullying, and parental engagement on Tuesday night.

Hanson said the board majority’s refusal to adhere to the established process has created distrust and sown division.

In 2021, the board majority voted to change an equity policy – years in the making — that had been adopted the previous year. Sixty-five principals and central office staff wrote a letter asking the board to keep the equity policy intact. Even after Superintendent Erin Kane recommended not to change the policy, the board pressed ahead with revisions.

Hanson said the board is diluting the equity policy.

“I cannot assure our students and their families that this board is doing everything in its power to meet the moral and legal obligations to our students to make sure this never happens again,” she said.

“We have a problem in our district, and this is a time to dig in and if anything, strengthen the policies that we have in place,” she said, referring to the recent complaints by students of color in Douglas County schools.  

A student and his family told the school board in April about students at a Castle Rock middle school using a group chat to target and bully Black and biracial students with racist slurs.

“Jeramiah Ganzy is not the only student in this district that has experienced disgusting acts of racism, of antisemitism, of homophobic, and of transphobic acts,” she said.

Hanson said she thought for a long time that she could connect with the new board members and work together.

“I have seen over and over again that that is not the case,” she said.

'I can no longer look our community and our taxpayers in the eyes and assure them that every dollar in our budget is being spent wisely'

During her tenure, Hanson’s focus on the board was student safety. She was also an advocate for employees. She said she is deeply concerned that the district’s turbulence is making it hard to hire.

“Our employees are struggling,” she said.

She said several principals have told her they used to have hundreds of job applicants for an opening.

“We have positions that are sitting with zero applicants currently,” she said. “Elementary schools that usually have enormous lines of people knocking at their door and have one or two applicants per position. It’s devastating.”

Hanson knew her time on the board was nearing an end a couple of weeks ago when the board majority rejected a settlement offer in a lawsuit charging that they violated open meetings law.

She said instead of hundreds of thousands of dollars going to classrooms, the board majority will spend it on unnecessary litigation to defend themselves. In an interview, she said that school boards have a fiduciary duty to put the needs of the organization over one’s own personal needs.

“The directors are solely electing to spend district dollars to defend themselves in this lawsuit,” she said. “I can no longer look our community and our taxpayers in the eyes and assure them that every dollar in our budget is being spent wisely.”

Elizabeth Hanson was spurred to join the DougCo board after the STEM school shooting

A moment that helped catapult Hanson to run for a board spot was after the STEM school shooting in May 2019. She was in front of her children’s elementary school, waiting for them to be dismissed.

“It was terrifying,” she said. “And I was just like so many other parents saying, something needs to be done about this.”

After being elected to the school board in November 2019, Hanson immersed herself in all things safety-related, ensuring that everything that could possibly be done to keep students safe is being done.  But stability in the district was short-lived with the March 2020 announcement that schools were closing due to the pandemic.

“It has been an absolutely chaotic ride from that moment forward,” she said in an interview. “We have been in crisis mode since.”

The district became embroiled in battles over masking in school. Parents filled school board meetings, heightening tension and sometimes lobbing vitriolic verbal attacks onto school board members. Other parents defended the board’s masking policies. Hanson said being a board member during the pandemic was the hardest time of her life.

After the newly created board of health allowed schools to opt out of the masking mandate, the district, along with nine parents, sued and subsequently won a lawsuit to protect children with disabilities who were susceptible to complications from COVID-19 infections.

A month later, four self-described conservatives swept into power, forming a new board majority with a new agenda.  A divided board became more at odds after a popular superintendent, Corey Wise, was fired and a lawsuit was filed alleging the four broke Colorado open meetings laws during discussions that led to the termination of Wise. In April, the district paid Wise more than $832,000 to settle a discrimination and retaliation complaint after he was fired.  

Hanson hopes her walking away will raise awareness that the district will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars more by fighting a lawsuit that doesn’t need to be fought. She said building leaders do a good job of protecting staff and families from what is really happening in the district, but it also prevents them from understanding the true story.

“I am very concerned for the future of our district,” Hanson said.

She hopes voters inside and outside of Douglas County talk to people who work at schools instead of listening to all of the noise surrounding public education right now.

“Ask about the curriculum being taught, ask about what they are seeing in terms of the academic, social and emotional needs of students, ask what they need as educators to be successful —  and then really listen to their responses.”