Douglas County schools cancel classes ahead of rally

Protest expected following allegations of open meeting law violations, equity debates

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Hundreds of people, including Douglas County Schools staff, are expected to rally outside district headquarters on Thursday after bombshell allegations that the conservative school board majority asked the superintendent to resign or be fired in a closed-door meeting.

In anticipation of large-scale staff absences, the district announced a “no student contact” day for Feb. 3. Schools will be open for teacher and staff workdays, but students will not report to school as classes were cancelled.

“We have reached the point where the number of absences has impacted our ability to provide a safe and supervised learning environment for students,” a district release said.

District activities, sports and events will go on as planned unless respective coaches or directors notified families otherwise, the release said. A district spokeswoman did not respond to questions about the exact number of staff who had reported they would be absent Feb. 3.

The local teacher’s union, Douglas County Federation, announced it would be taking “collective action” with community members through the Feb. 3 rally. Protesters would “call on the new board majority to support students and staff, and respect democratic norms of engagement and administration,” according to a news release from the organization.

The school board minority of directors David Ray, Susan Meek and Elizabeth Hanson held a public meeting on Jan. 31 where they alleged the board majority had collectively agreed in private conversations to ask for the superintendent’s resignation.

The three said board President Mike Peterson told them he and board Vice President Christy Williams met with Superintendent Corey Wise on Jan. 28 and asked him to resign. If he did not, four directors were reportedly prepared to terminate him, they said.

In a Feb. 1 statement, Peterson said the board had not taken any official action regarding the superintendent’s employment status. He had also urged the district to keep students in class.

"I am committed, and will continue to be committed, to respecting staff privacy when dealing with sensitive employment situations. This is true for any staff member in the Douglas County School District - and especially true for our superintendent,” Peterson said.

The controversy came on the heels of tense debate in the district after the board majority took steps roughly one week earlier to unwind the district’s equity policy. In a 4-3 vote on Jan. 25, the board passed a resolution directing the superintendent to come back in September with recommendations for how the policy could be changed.

Although supporters of the board majority cheered the move, ardent supporters of the equity policy had pleaded with directors to keep the policy in place as written. A majority of those who gave public comment opposed the resolution, which they said will weaken the equity policy.

During the Jan. 31 meeting, minority board directors said Peterson hoped the Jan. 25 resolution would be seen as an olive branch regarding equity in education.

The board majority had previously discussed plans to potentially repeal the equity policy entirely. Peterson stressed during the Jan. 25 board meeting that the most recent resolution does not make any changes to the equity policy yet.

DCF President Kevin DiPasquale rebuked the alleged manner in which directors attempted to oust Wise. The union will urge the board to keep equity as a priority in the district and leave the equity policy as is, he said. 

“We know the equity policy is what is needed in our community,” he said.  

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