Students rally amid widespread reaction to DCSD superintendent’s firing

Protests unfold at several DCSD schools as students urge transparency, educational equity

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Hundreds of students walked out of class on Monday, protesting the Douglas County School District’s removal of former Superintendent Corey Wise. Protesters also rallied in support of educational equity, and many wore black to rebuke alleged violations of open meeting laws.

The walkouts were organized over the weekend after the district’s school board voted 4-3 on Feb. 4 to fire Wise without cause. Wise has spent his entire 26-year career with the district, starting as a student-teacher and climbing the ranks. He was named the district’s superintendent last year.

At Legend High School, dozens of students gathered around the school’s flagpole shortly after 1 p.m., holding signs and shouting, “We support our teachers.” Earlier in his career, Wise opened Legend as its founding principal, and later left for a job in central district administration.

In Castle Rock, 16-year-old Gabby Hooper walked out of class in protest of the board’s choice to remove Wise, saying it disrespected teacher voices. The junior at Castle View High School said she is disappointed “and really scared for the future of our district.”

She believes firing a superintendent whom she knew to be well respected among staff will lead to teacher turnover. She watched the Feb. 4 special meeting with worries about its ramifications for the quality of education in DCSD.

“I just immediately thought about how many people this is going to affect, how big the cost would be to our district, and not just monetary cost, but also a personnel cost. How many good teachers we’re going to lose because of this,” she said.

Hooper said she is frightened “seeing the really intense division that exists” in her district community. Political division across the county is showing the most in local education, she said.

Hooper hopes the board prioritizes keeping good teachers in the district and working together.

“The really intense hatred and division and rhetoric going on at the board meeting is because of their refusal to work together and I just think something needs to change if we want anybody in our district to feel safe in the education system,” she said. “And that goes for staff and students.”

The student protests were the latest amid widespread reaction to Wise’s firing and allegations a conservative school board majority plotted to remove him in closed-door meetings.

The board minority of directors David Ray, Susan Meek and Elizabeth Hanson called a public meeting on Jan. 31, where they alleged directors Mike Peterson, Becky Myers, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar quietly agreed to remove Wise and then gave him a private ultimatum — resign or be fired.

On Feb. 3, many district teachers participated in a sick-out. Roughly 1,500 staff called out, forcing the district to cancel classes. Hundreds of district employees, students and community members rallied in Castle Rock outside the district administration building in support of Wise and the district’s equity policy, another source of contention in the community.

The board majority had moved in a 4-3 vote on Jan. 25 to adopt a resolution that directs the superintendent to return in September with recommended changes to the district’s equity policy.

Amid the controversy, 10 former Douglas County School Board directors signed an open letter calling on the current board directors to “commit to completing the appropriate study, education and and/or (sic) training necessary to help them understand the scope of their individual authority and duties to our Douglas County community.”

Denver Public Schools Board Director Tay Anderson released a letter on Feb. 5 bearing the names of more than 50 current and former Colorado school board directors.

The joint statement said the directors are “both shocked and disappointed by the unprecedented action to terminate Superintendent Corey Wise without cause” by the newly-elected Douglas County School Board members. The letter called removing Wise without cause, without public engagement and despite strong pushback “a failure of governance.”

The special meeting during which directors terminated Wise was held without public comment. Peterson said the district had received an outpouring and sufficient public comment throughout the week, while Ray called voting on Wise’s termination without allowing public comment during the meeting a travesty.  

Backlash has also landed in court. Highlands Ranch resident Bob Marshall filed a lawsuit on Feb. 4, alleging the board majority broke open meeting laws by using what’s sometimes referred to as “walking quorums” or “daisy-chain” meetings. The practice involves elected officials meeting two-at-a-time to discuss public business in order to evade quorum rules laid out in Sunshine Laws.

The lawsuit sought to stop the Feb. 4 special meeting with a temporary restraining order, but a judge did not have time to review it before the meeting took place, Marshall said.

Marshall said the case will move forward with a preliminary injunction hearing in a couple of weeks. If a judge rules in his favor, Marshall hopes the lawsuit results in a permanent order barring the school board directors from utilizing walking quorums again.

Colorado Community Media submitted interview requests with directors Peterson, Myers, Williams and Winegar regarding the lawsuit.

“We are unable to comment on pending litigation,” district spokeswoman Paula Hans said.

In the Feb. 5 meeting, all four majority board members emphatically denied breaking open meetings laws. Williams stressed she did not speak with more than one other board member at a time and maintained she “followed the law to the letter.”

“We stand by the way we handled it,” Peterson said.

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