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Secrets, collusion, and tears in DougCo schools

Drama in DougCo 

Whether you’ve been following the Douglas County School District drama closely or not at all, the buzz has been hard to ignore. There’s been tense and emotional school board meetings, unexpected ultimatums, teacher and student walkouts, and even allegations of closed-door (and possibly illegal) meetings.

So, what the heck is going on in DougCo?

First, some important background:
Things have been rocky for a while, and it all goes back to the November 2021 school board elections. While the Douglas County race was underway, tensions ran high as parents, teachers, and students became fiercely divided over mask policies and COVID protocols in schools. Some witnesses went as far as to call it one of the most heated school board races in recent state history.

Come election night, a slate of conservative candidates managed to secure four spots on the seven-person board, successfully ejecting two incumbent members and flipping the board’s political majority. So far, their decisions — including dropping in-school mask mandates and proposing changes to the district’s equity policy — have left the DougCo community highly divided.

Then, a closed-door meeting:
Last week, the school board’s three non-majority members made claims that their four counterparts were taking secretive and potentially illegal steps to unfairly oust district superintendent Corey Wise. Apparently, board president Mike Peterson privately gave Wise an ultimatum: resign or we’ll force you out. The three minority board members said there were no preceding discussions around the matter and that they were never made aware of any job performance issues regarding Wise. Friday night, the decision to terminate Wise was passed in a 4-3 vote at the end of a heated three-hour board meeting that allowed for no public comment. 

What does the community think?
More than 1,000 DougCo teachers staged a “sick out” last Thursday, the day before the vote, calling in absent from work to rally alongside parents and students outside the district building in Castle Rock. (The district was forced to cancel classes that day.) A “Save Corey Wise” petition had garnered nearly 22,000 signatures as of yesterday evening. “Every teacher that I know loves him. He’s been in public education for almost 30 years in Douglas County. He knows what’s best for kids,” DougCo teacher and parent Melinda Highsmith told CPR.

For their part, the majority board members have said that the dismissal of Wise will allow the district to move in a new direction, as is the will of the voters. “I want a superintendent who aligns with us and aligns with our community and voted for us,” said Kaylee Winegar, a newly-elected majority board member. The board members have said they’ve lost trust in Wise and where he puts his loyalties. Peterson said his goal is to ensure the district is “focusing on academics and not activism.”

So, what’s next?
Some Douglas County students have planned to stage a walkout from classes today around 1 p.m. to protest the school board’s decision to terminate Wise. One student involved in organizing the protest told Denver7 that students will be wearing black to “represent the death of student and teacher voices.” At least one district parent and graduate is planning to initiate a recall petition for some board members later this year (legally, a recall petition can’t happen until six months after an election).

In a statement from board president Mike Peterson, he said the board will move forward with plans to find an interim superintendent.

LISTEN: On today’s podcast, Host Bree Davies talks with Colorado Newsline reporter Chase Woodruff about Friday night’s contentious Douglas County School Board meeting and more. 

— Peyton Garcia, City Cast Denver Newsletter Writer and Baffled Third-Party Viewer



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