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Community rallies as roughly 1,500 Douglas County teachers call out sick following school board controversies

Protesters gather after allegations of open meeting law violations, equity debates

Danny McCorkle, seventh grader at Sierra Middle School, waves an equality flag during a protest against recent actions of the Douglas County District school board on Feb. 3, 2022, in Castle Rock. Hundreds rallied after the district’s board majority moved to unseat Superintendent Corey Wise and alter the district’s student equity policy. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

This story first appeared in a Colorado Community Media newspaper. The Colorado Sun is an owner of CCM.

Roughly 20 years ago, Kaci Nice was an 18-year-old, born-and-raised Parker resident attending Ponderosa High School. The high school senior was playing soccer and preparing to graduate.

Her coach was Corey Wise. He taught her social studies class too.

She remembers him as “an amazing teacher” who was popular among students. She called him “the most ethical, caring, loving, strong family man that I have ever met.”

Now in the wake of allegations a conservative school board majority improperly asked Wise to resign or face termination as the district’s superintendent, Nice —a parent of two current Douglas County School District students — is taking action.

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“I immediately wanted to stand up to that wrong that had been done,” she said.

She plans to join a rally this afternoon and also launched a Change.org petition urging recalls of the four directors who reportedly plotted Wise’s ouster. The online petition garnered 7,000 signatures in less than 24 hours. An estimated 1,500 teachers called out sick today, forcing the district to cancel classes. There are about 3,400 classroom teachers in the district.

Hundreds of district staff and community members are now gathered outside district headquarters in Castle Rock protesting plans to remove Wise and steps the board majority had taken Jan. 25 to dismantle the district’s equity policy.

The tipping point came Jan. 31, when the school board minority of David Ray, Susan Meek and Elizabeth Hanson held a public meeting alleging the board majority had given Wise the ultimatum to leave or be fired without the full board’s knowledge and without formal board approval.

Amy (last name redacted) protests recent actions of the Douglas County District school board. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)
Hundreds rallied after the district’s board majority moved to unseat Superintendent Corey Wise and alter the district’s student equity policy. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

They publicly accused directors Mike Peterson, Becky Myers, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar of violating board policy and breaking open meetings law.

Peterson issued a statement Feb. 1 saying the board had not taken any formal action regarding Wise’s employment status and had urged the district to keep students in school. He vowed to respect Wise’s privacy and his legacy.

Wise has been with DCSD for 26 years, spending his entire career with the district.

Meek told Colorado Community Media she spoke with Wise on Jan. 28 after learning about the ultimatum, and she said he corroborated accounts he was asked to resign or face termination.

Meek said she could not speak for Wise when asked if he was considering the ultimatum or if he found it legally legitimate.

A district spokeswoman said she had no updates when asked about the evening of Feb. 1 — the deadline Wise was reportedly given for deciding if he would resign — and about whether he had responded to requests he step down.

Meek said the alleged open meeting law violations were not the first complaints about majority board directors’ actions.

Nathaniel (6) and Jackson Gould (9) protest recent actions of the Douglas County District school board on Feb. 3 in Castle Rock. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

More than once, she questioned Peterson during board meetings about why he was referring to the board majority as a “we” and saying the four all felt the same about certain issues, despite Meek saying she had not been privy to whatever discussions he was referring to.

“That insinuates that backdoor conversations are happening — deciding policy as opposed to talking about it during board meetings,” she said.

A joint video statement by Peterson, Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon and Douglas County Board of Health President Doug Benevento also drew scrutiny from directors because Peterson was not authorized through director approval to speak on behalf of the school board.

Following the Jan. 31 meeting, Meek said she hoped the board would line up a special meeting with the full board, rescheduling the board’s retreat — which had been cancelled — to discuss the overall direction of the district and discuss concerns about the board’s relationships with Will Trachman.

Trachman is the board’s outside legal counsel and had reportedly consulted Peterson and Williams about removing Wise without briefing the full board about the conversations.

Meek said she was most concerned by any backdoor meetings that might have occured, saying that conduct is something that “rips apart a community and destroys trust.” The director said she is “absolutely” concerned the attempted removal of Wise will spur teacher turnover, and she conveyed that worry to Peterson.

“We are at the height of hiring season of school districts,” Meek said. “It’s absolutely the worst signal to give to our staff, that we are switching over leadership of an individual that they care deeply about.”

Read more on Colorado Community Media.

Demonstrators protest recent actions of the Douglas County District school board on Feb. 3, 2022, in Castle Rock. Hundreds rallied after the district’s board majority moved to unseat Superintendent Corey Wise and alter the district’s student equity policy. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

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