Education

Dougco School Board Doesn't Release Sickout Teachers' Names After Legal Threat

(From left) Kaylee Winegar, Mike Peterson, Becky Myers and Christy Williams, the members of the Douglas County School Board's conservative bloc, as seen in a 2021 campaign video.
(From left) Kaylee Winegar, Mike Peterson, Becky Myers and Christy Williams, the members of the Douglas County School Board's conservative bloc, as seen in a 2021 campaign video. Kids First DCSD via YouTube
Although a special meeting of the Douglas County Board of Education lasted nearly seven hours and ran into the early hours of today, February 17, it pretty much followed a script previewed yesterday. The board's conservative bloc of Becky Myers, Mike Peterson, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar, which fired popular superintendent Corey Wise early this month, presented an extraordinarily abbreviated one-week timeline to hire a replacement. In addition, Peterson confirmed that he'd personally reached out to Erin Kane, a controversial onetime DCSD interim superintendent, and said she'd expressed interest in applying — though he maintained that he was open to looking at other candidates, too.

Still, there was one big surprise. On February 15, the district had sent out an email noting that in response to a Colorado Open Records Act request, it would publicly share the names of the more than 1,000 teachers who called in sick on February 3 to protest the planned sacking of Wise — a development that resulted in classes being canceled that day for approximately 64,000 students at eighty-plus DCSD schools. However, the threatened release of the names didn't happen — and a big reason may have been a letter promising legal action should such a release take place.

The final sentence of the letter from attorney Igor Raykin of Aurora's Kishinevsky & Raykin reads, "I want to be clear as day here: if you release those records and a single educator is hurt, I will drag DCSD and all of its toxic Board members into court and force them to answer for their conduct."

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During what Raykin once referred to as "another life," he was a Westword intern (he penned the 1996 article accessible here). Much more recently, in 2019, he filed a suit during a teachers' strike at Denver Public Schools; the complaint contended that DPS precipitated the strike by failing to treat teachers fairly, thereby causing thousands of disabled children in the district to miss out on the services they so desperately need. In a Westword interview, he revealed why the situation was so personal to him, pointing out that he had spent ten years working in public education, including six years spent teaching in the Lookout Mountain Youth Services Center system. His wife teaches special education, too.

Douglas County instructors who participated in the sickout have been castigated by supporters of the conservative boardmembers, and so has the Douglas County Federation, the area's main teachers' union. For example, fliers declaring that "ALL Teachers Unions Are Bad!" were placed on the windshields of cars painted with messages supporting the February 3 protest. As noted by Denver7, Peterson criticized the fliers at the February 16 special meeting, saying, "This is no way to move forward as a district. Our teachers should be respected and supported for the work they do for our students every day, and we hope the community can come together in support of our teachers."

This sentiment was expressed quite differently in the letter from Raykin to three legal department staffers with the Douglas County School District: Mary Klimesh, Wendy Jacobs and Brian Condon. Here's what he had to say:
Mary, Wendy and Brian,

Someone at DCSD needs to grow a backbone regarding this ridiculous CORA request that has been sent to DCSD about all of the teachers involved in the sickout on February 3, 2022. My understanding is that Jeffco has received some CORA requests, as well, that were intended to harass teachers. Jeffco actually fought those CORA requests. But DCSD, as usual, couldn't care less about its education staff and is doing nothing to protect them. This is why I would encourage the awesome educators of DCSD to move on to another district, as they deserve better than what you provide them.

To be clear, DCSD should not have to comply with this CORA request for multiple reasons:

1. A request this expansive surely must take many hours to comply with. DCSD has every right to bill at $30 per hour after the first hour. Has DCSD done that? Has the money been collected?

2. "(D) Nothing in this subparagraph (IX) prohibits an agency from disclosing information or materials during an open investigation if it is in the interest of public health, welfare, or safety." C.R.S. § 24-72-204. You know full well that there is a lunatic fringe out there that is a threat to teachers. You are very much within your right to deny this CORA request on grounds of public health, welfare and safety.

3. I understand that you may think that Colorado's Governmental Immunity Act (GIA) may protect the District in this situation. I don't think so. "An employee of a public school, school district, or a charter school is not subject to suit under this section in his or her individual capacity unless the employee’s actions or omissions are willful and wanton." C.R.S. § 24-10-106.3. The DCSD School Board as currently constituted has made it clear that it is hostile to teachers. Furthermore, it is now aware based on this correspondence that it has no obligation to comply with this CORA request. It also knows that this request can endanger teachers in this toxic political environment. If DCSD complies with this CORA request, it is doing so with a willful and wanton intention to see educators hurt — period.

I want to be clear as day here: if you release those records and a single educator is hurt, I will drag DCSD and all of its toxic Board members into court and force them to answer for their conduct.

Igor
Continue to see the video of the special meeting:
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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