This story first appeared in a Colorado Community Media newspaper. Support CCM’s neighborhood news. The Colorado Sun is an owner of CCM.
Corey Wise has broken his silence — and the ousted superintendent is suing his former employers alleging retaliation, discrimination and that his infamous firing was illegal.
The former Douglas County School District superintendent filed a lawsuit April 13 with the Colorado Civil Rights Division and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
He claims the Douglas County School Board majority discriminated and retaliated against him because of his advocacy for the district’s educational equity policy and universal masking during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before he was terminated without cause on Feb. 4, Wise oversaw Colorado’s third-largest school district, serving 64,000 students in nearly 90 schools and employing more than 8,000 people.
A new conservative board majority was elected in November 2021 and quickly began work to lift the district’s masking mandates and consider a repeal of the district’s educational equity policy, issues Wise had supported.
The board majority of Mike Peterson, Becky Myers, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar later fired Wise in a 4-3 vote, a decision that led to protests in the community and among students.
Allegations that the manner of Wise’s firing was illegal surfaced Jan. 31, when the board minority of David Ray, Susan Meek and Elizabeth Hanson publicly claimed the majority used “daisy chain” meetings to plan Wise’s removal out of the public’s eye, and then gave him an ultimatum to resign or be fired in another closed-door meeting.
Wise spent his entire 26-year career with the district, beginning as a teacher and climbing the ranks to superintendent. His superintendent term began on May 12, 2021, and would have ended on June 30, 2024.
Wise’s discrimination complaint alleges the true motives for his firing were the majority’s belief that he stood between them and what the lawsuit describes as discriminatory policies the four wanted to pursue.
While the majority opposed universal masking mandates, Wise stood behind using those precautions in the district to protect high-risk students and staff vulnerable to COVID-19. The former superintendent was also a proponent of the district’s equity policy, which received backlash among local conservatives who equated the policy’s implementation with teaching critical race theory.
“Mr. Wise’s termination was also an illegal act of retaliation against what the board majority perceived as Mr. Wise’s opposition to its policy preferences — but which in fact was Mr. Wise’s legally protected opposition to discrimination, which he in good faith believed was required by state and federal civil rights law,” the lawsuit says.
The legal document outlines a lengthy list of statements from throughout the majority’s Kids First campaign that Wise’s legal team puts forward as evidence the majority holds discriminatory views against people more susceptible to COVID-19, people of color and LGBTQ+ people.
For example, the lawsuit cites comments Peterson made disapproving of one of his daughter’s math questions that featured a same-sex couple. The lawsuit says Peterson has credited the question with inspiring him to run for school board.
Their disapproval of Wise’s involvement in requiring universal masking, and his involvement in a lawsuit the district brought against the masking-mandate-averse local health department, “motivated the board majority to unlawfully terminate Mr. Wise,” the lawsuit says.
“Likewise, another key platform espoused by the individual respondents was hostility and opposition to gender and sexuality ‘constructs,’ ‘critical race theory’ and anti-discrimination efforts aimed at supporting racial minorities more broadly, which the individual respondents crystallized into opposition to the district’s educational equity policy,” it says.
The ousted superintendent’s lawsuit also says his firing led to personal suffering, including anxiety and depression, “and has greatly impacted his personal and familial life.”
The allegations do not mean Wise believes he was discriminated or retaliated against as a person of a protected class, but instead because he advocated on behalf of students’ and staff’s civil rights.
Read more on Colorado Community Media.