School Board Accused Of Collusion After Firing Pro-Equity Superintendent

By Rick Gonzales | 5 months ago

school board firing

The controversies surrounding public schools across the nation continue to mount. In Douglas County (Colorado), the school board has voted to fire the district’s superintendent. What makes this school firing move even more controversial is that it comes as the school board, with its newly elected conservative majority, is being accused of violating state open-meeting laws.

The vote, which saw end in a 4-3 count, came in a special meeting this past Friday evening. The school board voted to fire superintendent Corey Wise without cause, sending him packing with two years still left on his contract. Wise, who nabbed the superintendent position in a board vote last April, was a firm policy supporter of in-school masking as well as equity in classrooms.

His support, though, was for naught, as the four new conservative board members overturned those policies. The new members ran their campaigns speaking against critical race theory in classrooms as well as other diversity measures and won favor with many parents in the school district. This school firing appears to be related to Wise’s vision versus the conservative school board member’s vision.

“It’s more about finding someone who better aligns,” Kaylee Winegar, a member of the school board, said during the meeting via The Washington Post. “It’s just what we want with this district is different.” But it is how they came to this conclusion is where the controversy begins.

The 4-3 vote follows talk that the four conservative members gave Wise a choice in secret. Either he resigns or he’d be fired through the school board vote. These allegations came from the school board’s liberal minority members. If true, the school firing actions taken by the conservative members would violate the state’s open-meeting laws.

While the four conservative members had a lot of support to gain their school board positions, the allegations levied at them sparked a massive outrage throughout the community. The school firing of Wise resulted in the Douglas County School System, one of the largest in the Denver area, closing down as over 1,000 teachers, parents, and district staffers showed their support for Wise in protest.

Elizabeth Hanson was one of the three dissenting votes against Wise’s firing. As one of the liberal board members, Hanson said of the school firing that the actions of her conservative colleagues were akin to “an attack on public education.” The second liberal board member, Susan Meek, explained that she was in “shock and dismay” when she, Hanson, and David Ray [the third liberal school board member] were alerted to the alleged collusion between the conservative board members.

“To have four members of a board collude together to make a decision of that magnitude and not include the entire board is reprehensible,” Meek said via The Washington Post. Meek was one board member who accused the conservative board members of collusion to oust Wise, but it was a claim that one conservative board member denies. Mike Peterson, the school board’s president, said in his statement that he rejects the notion that he and the other three colluded. “I or any of the majority board members [violated] any laws related to the discussion of any personnel matter.” His statement did not provide any other details.

Colorado has open-meeting laws in which, in this case, school board members are not given the authority to act on their own without the informing or the consent of the entire board. But it was during a Zoom meeting that had nearly 1,300 people on the call, that the liberal members decided to share what they had heard. “When we found out what happened, we had to openly share what we heard,” Meek said.

Colorado open-meeting laws state that not only do all board members need to be informed of any sort of meeting taking place, but the law says that any meeting with three or more board members must be open to the public. After they were hit with this piece of knowledge, the conservative board members did admit to the meeting, though they did not specify how many were present nor did they explain any pertinent details of the meeting.

Before the unprecedented school firing of Wise, the school board’s new conservative majority had already made their presence felt throughout the district. They voted to drop the district’s mask mandate amid the rising numbers of the omicron variant. They also recently voted to change the district’s equity policy that had been adopted before the new members came aboard. Their claim in changing the policies was that there were “legitimate questions” that came from district employees and parents surrounding the “feelings of shame and guilt” that the equity policies presented.

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As far as the controversy surrounding this school firing, it continues. One parent is suing the four conservative members of the school board, claiming they did violate Colorado’s open-meeting law. The lawsuit is in its early stages, so where it goes from here, only time will tell.