Skip to main content
DONATE

After controversial firing, community members rally behind Douglas County superintendent

Email share
A protest in support of DCSD superintendent Corey Wise, who reportedly received an ultimatum to resign or be fired.
Students walk out of Highlands Ranch High School and Cresthill Middle School Feb. 7 in protest against the controversial firing of Douglas County Superintendent Corey Wise.
Photo: Amanda Horvath, Rocky Mountain PBS

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. — The Douglas County School Board's decision to terminate Superintendent Corey Wise after 26 years of the service in the county has drawn the ire from teachers, their union, and many members of the community.

The school board's four-person conservative majority — board president Mike Peterson, vice president Christy Williams and directors Becky Myers and Kaylee Winegar — voted to terminate Wise in a tense, dramatic Feb. 4 board meeting. The three board members who voted against Wise's firing said the conservative members may have broken the law, alleging that those four members engaged in secret meetings to take formal action against Wise.

Peterson denied any deceit and said Wise did not receive an ultimatum to resign or be fired, as other members alleged.

The Feb. 4 meeting was nevertheless contentious. When Myers initially voted "no" to fire Wise, Peterson said, "You’re voting no for termination."

“I’m sorry, yes,” Myers responded, attempting to clarify her vote to fire Wise.

“Mike, that was her vote," said board member Elizabeth Hanson, who was opposed to Wise's firing. "You do not get to come in and coerce her into changing her vote, and if she cannot follow what is happening it is not your responsibility to bring her up to speed. Her vote is no."

Hanson's comment drew raucous applause from some people in the audience. But Peterson said he was confirming Myers' vote as a yes. Myers, after a brief pause, then said, "Oh, can I go home?"

Speaking about the consequences of the board's decision to fire Wise, minority board member Susan Meek said, “When you choose to turn over leadership, you are choosing to lose teachers during a teacher shortage that is nationwide."

Kevin DiPasquale, the president of the Douglas County Federation, the local teacher's union, made similar remarks in a statement after the meeting.

"Last night, Superintendent Corey Wise, on a vote of 4-3, was terminated without cause. It is hard to overestimate the shock wave this callous action sent through the schools and community," DiPasquale said. "Now the current board majority has sent the ominous message that every district employee isn’t safe. Further, the message is that employee voices are not valued, and it clearly indicates that employees' extraordinary efforts during the pandemic are long forgotten. Unfortunately, it also says: look for options elsewhere."

Students protest after Wise was fired

On Monday, Feb. 7, many students walked out of Highlands Ranch High School and Cresthill Middle School to protest against Wise's firing.

"I was just kind of in shock," one student protester said about Wise's termination, "because there was really no reason to fire him."

Kids stood just outside Highlands Ranch High School cheering and chanting various things regarding the firing including, "equity for all."

While there was no official cause listed for Wise's firing, many student protesters believe it was regarding the district's equity policy. On Jan. 25, the board passed a resolution 4-3 directing the superintendent to come up with recommendations for how the policy could be changed.

The junior who spoke to Rocky Mountain PBS believes Wise's firing was about this request to change the equity policy. She said if the policy is removed her mom will move her out of the district, one she's been a part of for four years. A policy she described as "basically nothing can be changed up in regards to equal education and that's what it stands for me." 

She walked out of school an hour an half early on Monday because for her this is something she has to stand up for.  

"Politics should not be in school," she said. "And that they should definitely not remove the equity policy."

As hundreds of kids stood outside Highlands Ranch High School protesting, various teachers and school security stood closely nearby as many cars were driving through the area and the crowd often pushed into the street. Several kids also ran back and forth across the street. Passing cars often honked in support and sometimes carried high school students who held signs as part of the protest as well. 

The crowd thinned after about an hour of protesting and school busses started to arrive for the end of the school day. 

Outside reaction to Wise's firing

Officials from other Colorado school districts chimed in on Wise's firing. More than 50 former and current Colorado school board members signed a letter shared by Denver Public School Board's vice president, Tay Anderson.

"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 reads.

In an online fundraiser, people raised nearly $30,000 to support Wise. A petition on Change.org to recall the four board members who voted to fire Wise has more than 20,000 signatures. It is not, however, an official recall petition, which can only take place six months after the election. The four conservative members who voted to fire Wise were all elected in November.

Colorado Public Radio reports that a Highlands Ranch attorney has filed a lawsuit against the four conservative members of the school board.

Protests before the vote

On Feb. 3, the day before the board meeting, a crowd of people, including many Douglas County School District (DCSD) staff members, rallied outside the district’s headquarters in response to the allegations that the school board majority asked Wise to resign or be fired in a secret meeting.

DCSD declared Thursday, Feb. 3 a “no student contact day” in anticipation of the large-scale absences from staff. Buildings and schools were open to staff who didn’t call out, but classes were canceled. By Wednesday, there were about 1,500 teacher absences scheduled for Thursday. That is more than 40% of the number of licensed teachers in the district.

In a news release, officials with the Douglas County Federation, said “after much deliberation, the difficult decision to rally was made, in conjunction with parents and community members, to take a stand against actions that are harmful to students and staff.”

Colorado Voices

Douglas County School District protest

Events leading up to the dramatic board meeting

In a Jan. 31 meeting, the Douglas County School Board minority — directors David Ray, Susan Meek and Elizabeth Hanson — alleged that the conservative majority held a closed-door meeting in which they gave Wise that ultimatum: resign or be fired.

According to reports from Colorado Community Media, Ray, Meek and Hanson expressed concern that the conservative members “violated public meeting laws and board policies by agreeing in secret conversations to take formal action against the superintendent.”

The three members said Peterson told them he and Williams met with Superintendent Wise Jan. 28 and asked him to resign.

“If the allegations by the board minority are true, this sends a chilling message to all of the district’s employees that due process and transparency do not matter,” the Douglas County Federation wrote.

Peterson said in a Feb. 1 statement that "any formal decision regarding our superintendent's employment status will take place during a public meeting, as required by law. There has been no action taken on the superintendent's contract or employment status."

The controversy follows the debate over DCSD’s equity policy. As mentioned above, it was on Jan. 25, when the board passed a resolution directing the superintendent to come up with recommendations for how the policy could be changed.

According to the district website, the policy’s purpose “is to show DCSD’s continued commitment to ensuring that every DCSD student and staff member has access to equitable and rigorous educational opportunities. The policy also reaffirms DCSD’s commitment to providing an inclusive culture to ensure all students, staff, and community members feel safe and valued.”

“The Douglas County Federation is asking for an unedited Educational Equity Policy to be implemented. We urge the board to follow the district and state policies on Performance Reviews to undertake any actions regarding employment status of all employees, including the superintendent,” the union wrote in a statement. “Any decisions around the same, should be done adhering to Sunshine Laws and Due Process norms. School board members must hold themselves to the high standards of public office. They should minimize conflict and avoid financial liabilities with their behavior and actions.”


Kyle Cooke is the digital media manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at kylecooke@rmpbs.org.

More education news

Spotlight Newsletter

Community stories from across Colorado and updates on your favorite PBS programs, in your inbox every Tuesday.

Sign up here!