Fired superintendent files discrimination complaint, new chief steps in


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Three months after the Douglas County, Colorado school board fired its popular superintendent in a move that sparked protests from teachers and students, the former top administrator has filed a lawsuit against the district – and the board named an unqualified successor.

Corey Wise, in his state and federal discrimination and retaliation demand, said his support for the district’s equity policy, minority and LGBTQ+ students, and COVID mask mandates made him a target of four newly elected conservative board members who expelled him in February .

Her replacement, Erin Kane, a former head of a local network of charter schools with 3,000 students, was hired in March in a 4:3 voicewith the support of the same four members who ousted Wise.

It wasn’t her first time in the role: Kane served as acting superintendent of Douglas County between 2016 and 2018. She wasn’t hired for the job because she didn’t meet the qualifications. : she did not have a master’s degree at the time and was not among the finalists. , district officials told 74.

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Kane, who has lived in the county for more than two decades and raised his three children there, spent his first weeks in office meeting with school and community leaders, trying to build trust in a district that has been deeply divided over the mandates and mask movements. toward equity and inclusion—the so-called “culture war” issues plaguing school systems across the country.

“I recognize that our community still faces conflict and division,” she said in a statement posted on the district’s website. “However, as I listen carefully to what everyone is saying, I truly believe we are a lot closer than we think.”

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In White, in wealthy Douglas County, Colorado, a conservative school board majority fires the superintendent and a fierce backlash ensues

The superintendent has focused on securing funds for teacher salary increases — similar efforts have been underway for years — and bonds for new construction and building maintenance. Its affluent, mostly white neighborhood, the third largest in the state, has some 64,000 students.

Critics lament the speed with which Kane was cast. Wise, in his complaint, alleges that she was a predetermined choice, that she accidentally texted him about the job before he was fired and just minutes after two new board members urged him to to resign.

The conservative board slate has ‘expressed no contrition or sorrow for ruining Mr. Wise’s career, dragging his reputation through the mud or sacrificing his well-being at the altar of their skewed agendas’, says his complaint.

Wise, whose base salary was $247,500, had worked for Douglas County Schools in various capacities for 26 years. The district was forced to pay him for another 12 months and paid him a lump sum in February. Kane was hired at $250,000 with her contract ending June 30, 2026.

“In my first four weeks, I met one-on-one with nearly 100 district and school leaders, visited 30 schools, spoke to hundreds of teachers and staff, and engaged committees. board and community groups,” she wrote in an email. at 74. “I am very involved in community outreach regarding district funding and our challenges, including teacher pay and facilities. Taking care of the amazing teachers and staff who look after our children will always be a priority for me. I am confident that together, in partnership with our parents and our community, we can maximize the opportunities we provide for the future of our students.

Teachers and their supporters gather outside the central office of the Douglas County School District on February 3, a day before the ousting of Superintendent Corey Wise. (Courtesy of Kevin DiPasquale)

None of the four board members who ousted Wise returned many interview requests. Their decision led to a massive student walkout, and the day before their vote, 1,500 district employees staged a sickness. This prompted a lawyer and a father living in the district to demand that the names of all participating teachers be made public. The request was canceled, but not before a local news agency asked the district to identify the person making the request. This information was released last week: Michael P. Kane, an associate of Dan Caplis Law and not related to the new superintendent, was the source of the request. Caplis is a prominent conservative radio host.

Wise and his supporters say the council met illegally and in secret to plan his ouster. Community Member and Lawyer Robert Marshall sued the school board and the four conservative members individuallyclaiming they discussed Wise’s employment outside of a formal board session, in violation of state open meeting laws.

The lawsuit makes its way to the district court: Judge Jeffrey K. Holmes, who granted a preliminary injunction On March 9 to prevent the four board members from violating open meeting laws, evidence indicates they “collectively pledged, outside of open meetings, to terminate Wise’s employment” .

The district’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit was refuse.

Marshall said the board continued to operate unethically.

“The hiring of the new superintendent was a farce,” he said. “Several members of the community begged the new board members to just tell everyone they wanted Erin Kane and hire her because that’s what they were going to do anyway. Instead , they went through a search charade and said they would consider public comment.

Marshall said he and many others in the community wanted another nominee, runner-up Danny Winsor, who had worked in the district for years from coach to teacher to administrator.

Marshall said the board continues to keep the community on its toes by calling many last-minute special sessions: They’ve called eight so far in 2022, way more than average, according to the board member. board of directors David Ray. The majority of them focused on the superintendent search process and the job description. Others were dedicated to Marshall’s trial.

Ray, who opposed Wise’s firing and Kane’s hiring, laments the meetings, which were mostly called by board chairman Mike Peterson.

“It keeps our audience from participating,” Ray said. “When the public does not receive this notice in advance, it is disadvantaged. Special meetings are not best practice and should only be used for things of an urgent nature. We asked Peterson several times why they couldn’t be put on the agenda of regular board meetings…but he wasn’t willing to push the deadline.

Douglas County School Board (left to right) Mike Peterson, Kaylee Winegar, Christy Williams, Becky Myers, David Ray, Susan Meek, Elizabeth Hanson (Douglas County School District)

Some majority board critics say they are considering a recall, but none have seriously started the process. Still, others say the council and district are on the right track.

“I’m happy with the direction they’re going,” mother Christa Gilstrap said. “Kane is a fabulous choice. She can bring unity and calm things down in the neighborhood.

Gilstrap, a recruiter by profession, thinks Kane is qualified even though she doesn’t have a master’s degree in education as the district originally required. Instead, she has a master’s degree in public administration.

Regardless of her college credentials, Gilstrap said, Kane is a proven leader, having run her K-8 charter school, American Academyfor seven years.

“We need someone who has those skills,” Gilstrap said. “Her reputation of her charter is not tarnished: she has had countless employees come and speak on her behalf.”

But longtime resident Julie Gooden, who has two children in the district, thinks it’s chaos because of the newly elected council members.

“I feel like Mike Peterson is campaigning and I wish he would stop,” Gooden said. “He says alarming things. He vilifies the teachers and our staff.

The animosity spread throughout the community. Teachers’ union president Kevin DiPasquale said morale remained low weeks after teachers on three campuses found flyers on their cars warning them, “Most teachers are good and we appreciate them!” it read. “You’re mean! Get out and go!

DiPasquale said teachers are concerned the council is not focused on education but on resolving many lawsuits. And, he said, they remain uncertain about pay increases: Douglas County teachers and staff are the lowest paid among other major metropolitan districts in Colorado, such as Jefferson County and Littleton, said the head of the union.

“Erin tries to be visible,” DiPasquale said of the new superintendent. “But there has been no work by the board or the school superintendent to support public education.”

Right now, he said, there are more than 600 vacancies in his school district: the next closest district has 300, and it’s much bigger.

Ray, who served on the board for almost seven years, said he had a positive working relationship with Kane in the past, but wishes she had stronger credentials.

Critics also claim Kane is aligned with right-wing groups and supports arming teachers, a point she clarified in an email to 74. She said she does not support the arming of personnel in his district, except school resource officers or official security personnel.

“We have a great relationship with our law enforcement partners and they’re just minutes away,” she said, but “I’m also not in favor of taking that right away. schools or districts in different circumstances that may be remote from law enforcement and without an OAR Again, this is not the case in Douglas County.

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