Education

Douglas County School Board's Next Meeting Could Add Fuel to Dumpster Fire

An emotional Douglas County School District superintendent Corey Wise after being fired during a February 4 school board meeting.
An emotional Douglas County School District superintendent Corey Wise after being fired during a February 4 school board meeting. Denver7 via YouTube
Today at 5 p.m., the Douglas County School District's Board of Education will meet for what is likely to be another fiery and contentious session.

The meeting takes place against the backdrop of ex-superintendent Corey Wise preparing a possible lawsuit over his recent firing; an already filed complaint whose request for a preliminary injunction intended to undo Wise's termination is scheduled to be heard in court this week; heavy criticism from the union associated with district teachers, including participants in a sickout backing Wise who only avoided public shaming after another threat of legal action; and the potential naming of Wise's successor, widely expected to be Erin Kane, a former DCSD interim superintendent known for her advocacy of more guns on campus and opposition to mandatory masking.

The agenda for the February 22 meeting — which optimistically predicts an end time of 9:15 p.m. even though the board's last gathering went past midnight — doesn't definitively state whether Kane or anyone else will be chosen as superintendent after a one-week search; the process typically takes months. But as has been abundantly clear since Wise's February 4 dismissal, anything can happen when conservative boardmembers Becky Myers, Mike Peterson, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar get together.

On February 18, a news release confirmed that Wise had retained the services of Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC, one of the Denver area's highest-profile civil-rights law firms (its attorneys represented the mother of Elijah McClain in a $15 million settlement over the young Black man's 2019 death after a brutal encounter with Aurora police officers), as well as a second legal partner, Allen Vellone Wolf Helfrich & Factor P.C. Accompanying the announcement was a letter to Douglas County School District general counsel Mary Klimesh that was said to serve as "a record request pursuant to the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) and notice of your duty to preserve evidence related to this matter for future litigation."

Among the items the district is asked to keep rather than discard: "all records, emails or other digital communications received or sent by current or former Douglas County School Board members" related to the board's equity policy, the termination of Wise, discussions of Kane, and the lawsuit regarding Wise's firing filed by Douglas County resident Robert C. Marshall.

The records request, which is being handled in part by Steve Zansberg of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, stresses that it is not technically about Wise's pink-slipping; instead, the focus is "exclusively about the process by which important public policies — directly affecting some 64,000 students enrolled in DCSD schools, and their families — is made. That process is governed by clear and unambiguous Colorado law: the Colorado Open Meetings Law (COML). That law...requires that any time three or more members of a 'local public body' like the BOE [Board of Education] plan to discuss public business, 'in person, by telephone, electronically, or by [any] other means of communication,' they must notify the public in advance and allow the public to observe that discussion in real time."

The Marshall suit specifically names Myers, Peterson, Williams and Winegar as defendants, and the motion for a preliminary injunction asks the 18th Judicial District to "maintain the status quo during the pendency of this litigation (and, thereafter, permanently) to secure the rights of the Plaintiff (and of the broader public) to receive advance notice and the opportunity to observe, in real time, the give-and-take discussion among elected officials as they engage in 'the formation of public policy.'" The case has been assigned to District Judge Jeffrey K. Holmes, who's expected to hear it at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, February 25.

As for the Douglas County Federation, the teachers' union's president, Kevin DiPasquale, lit up the district for declaring its intention to release the names of instructors who called in sick on February 3 after word of Wise's impending fate was leaked by members Elizabeth Hanson, Susan Meek and David Ray. The information was supposed to be shared at a special meeting on February 16 in response to a CORA request, but after attorney Igor Raykin promised to drag the district into court should any educator be harmed, the matter was dropped.

DiPasquale's February 16 statement reads: "Every day, educators in the Douglas County school system go above and beyond to show up for their students. Rather than honoring that effort and working together with parents and fellow educators to make schools better and more responsive to student needs, a select few are politicizing our classrooms and using intimidation tactics to silence educators and single them out for using their voices. Tonight, the community, educators and parents came together and denounced the attempt to expose teacher absences, a move that would’ve infringed on teachers’ basic rights and eroded public trust in the school district and the board."

He adds: "Teachers don’t go into this profession for the money or gratification. They do it because they care and because they want to ensure our kids are receiving a high-quality education that will prepare them to succeed in the future. We must continue to halt these political power grabs that are undermining public education and driving good educators away from our schools; this divisive politicking has no place in our schools or our communities. The Douglas County Federation stands against any form of harassment — including intimidation and retaliation — that is being levied against educators and school staff."

The Board of Education meeting is scheduled to take place at the Douglas County School District's main offices, at 620 Wilcox Street in Castle Rock; it can also be viewed online. Click for more information, as well as to read the Corey Wise Colorado Open Records Act preservation letter to the Douglas County School District, Robert C. Marshall v. Douglas County School Board, et al., and the motion for a preliminary injunction.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts