Corey Wise, who was fired as superintendent of the Douglas County School District on February 4 by the majority conservative Board of Education, has filed a discrimination complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Wise’s central claim is that he was ousted for “the DCSD’s newly adopted equity policy”, which his opponents have equated with critical race theory, “and for ending masking in schools of the DCSD, despite the potential mortal danger”.
Wise doesn’t want his latest decision to be construed as an attack on Douglas County schools, but rather as an effort to help them reach their full potential.
“I’ve always said it: I love the Douglas County School District,” says Wise, who spent 25 years at DCSD; he worked as a teacher and principal before taking on leadership roles that culminated in his appointment as acting superintendent in October 2020 and signing a three-year contract the following May to hold the position permanently. “I also love Douglas County and want us to be at our best.”
At the same time, he says that although “we’ve been through trials and tribulations before, it’s different. But challenges give us an opportunity.”
Wise’s lawsuit, dated April 13 and filed by Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC of Denver, acknowledges that he was fired not “because of his personal identity or protected characteristics,” but because “through his advocacy on behalf of students and staff whose characteristics are protected by state and federal civil rights laws,” including those whose status falls under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and students of color, “ the new board majority associated Mr. Wise with these protected groups and unlawfully terminated him for this association and advocacy.”
Rathod Mohamedbhai Director Qusair Mohamedbhai confirms the complaint is a precursor to further action against the district and board members Mike Peterson, Becky Myers, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar, who were elected in November. “Filing is a mandatory first step before a lawsuit is filed,” he says. “And yes, we are preparing a trial.”
Prior to being hired by Wise, Thomas Tucker was Superintendent of the Douglas County School District, Colorado’s third-largest and the county’s largest employer; 8,000 workers serve more than 65,000 students in more than ninety schools. Tucker took the job in 2018, and in his roughly two years on the job before stepping down in 2020, he sowed the seeds for a new education equity policy by airing a survey as part of an overall strategic plan; it garnered approximately 30,000 responses from teachers, staff, students, and community members. As part of this initiative, Tucker “formed an Equity Action Team made up of several dedicated volunteer administrators to help organize and lead the formulation of an equity policy,” which the filing describes as becoming more urgent after student complaints following protests over the May 2020 killing of George Floyd.
On September 1, 2020, the team presented the plan, which was adopted the following March. Here is a summary of the steps in Wise’s discrimination complaint:
a. Create and implement a DCSD equity resolution and policy.
b. Implementation of “No Place for Hate” in all secondary schools in the district. “No Place for Hate” is a customizable program developed by the Anti-Defamation League to help engage students and staff in active dialogue and learning about the topics of bias, bullying, inclusion and discrimination. the covenant.
vs. Creation and maintenance of a standing committee, including staff, parents, students and community members, to advance actions on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility.
D. Collecting samples of audits, documents and essential resources to guide ongoing work and veterinary investigations regarding culturally safe environments.
e. Begin planning “courageous conversations” for strategic plan administrators and cohorts. “Courageous Conversation” is a professionally developed protocol for engaging, sustaining, and deepening interracial dialogue in hopes of exposing racial bias and eliminating racial disparities.
F. Expand professional development opportunities, including making available to all staff courses that address equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility.
g. Conducting fairness audits and data collection.
h. Audit current curriculum resources and introduce the minimum recommended list of diversity/equity books and resources into school and district collections.
These goals barely read as an introduction to critical race theory, but that is how they were formulated by the four board members named in Wise’s complaint. For example, Peterson is quoted as lamenting that DCSD “brought in consultants for $37,000 to push CRT on our teachers. They [the consultants] defined “the system” as racist and “white, male, capable, Christian and straight”…[ting] The false oppressor/victim paradigm based solely on race and called for collective action against the system.” Peterson also complained about the “radical agenda in previous council practice – an agenda based on divisive, equal outcomes (weak) and race-based policies that are discriminatory and will only lead our children to failure” and argued that critical race theory “would teach his own children that their father…is an oppressor based on the historical actions of others and [that] two of them are permanent victims who cannot improve their position in life.”
The discrimination complaint argues that Wise was a scapegoat as a proponent of critical race theory. “When you listen to what the four council members said in their pre-election speeches, in interviews, and what they said in the forums, and even what they said after they were elected, it’s not completely surprising,” says Wise. “They said a lot of that to get elected. But the inaccuracies are what’s confusing. It’s not true that the politics of equity was a critical theory of race, but they used a narrative that, according to them, would help them get elected, then they took the steps that they have.”
The controversy over mask use came to a head in October 2021, when the Douglas County Health Department, which was formed after county commissioners were bailed out of the Tri-County Health Department due COVID restrictions, approved an order allowing parents to withdraw from school. covering the terms of their children despite the upsurge in infections linked to the Delta variant of the disease. Two days later, the school district, which had resisted pressure from commissioners, reiterated that face coverings were still mandatory at its facilities.
This point was reinforced by a later lawsuit in which the school district was a plaintiff, and John L. Kane, a U.S. District Court judge for the District of Colorado, quickly smackdown the health department, issuing a temporary restraining order which was later extended. The agency eventually relented, and on November 19 the suit was officially dropped. But by then, Peterson and company had already been elected to the school board, securing a policy reversal that took place on December 7.
Winegar’s views on the subject are illustrated in the complaint by excerpts from an interview with the Colorado time recorder: “When it comes to wearing a mask, parents are the ultimate authority on their health. … And so, that’s where I stand, is that we really have to fight to make one choice for our children because my personal position is that I don’t like to send my daughter to school with a mask on to me She is five years old and I worry if she gets too hot she is afraid of the take it off and I’m not here to say, ‘Yeah, you can. You can take it down.'”
Wise continued to support masking during this time. “Like all superintendents, I had to protect students and staff for everyone’s safety, and following the ADA to protect our most vulnerable was essential for everyone,” Wise said. “But unfortunately, it became something we couldn’t work on with the Douglas County Board of Health in order to protect the ADA and those most at risk. That’s why we were part of this lawsuit. We had to testify and defend those who are disabled and who have chronic health problems.”
This, however, earned Wise the enmity of the four board members and he suffered the consequences. “They made it clear in their process and afterwards with the dismissal that it was part of their decision,” he says.
Since his dismissal, Wise has been in high demand. Shortly after his layoff, he was hired by Jeffco Public Schools as a community superintendent to fill a position vacated by Dave Weiss, who had been promoted to district school chief, until the end of the school year. 2021-2022. And this week, he was selected to serve as the acting assistant superintendent for the Cherry Creek School District beginning this fall. Wise praises both districts. “I want to jump in and make a difference,” Wise said of the new gig.
Still, the future of the Douglas County School District and its board of trustees, which recently selected Erin Kane as superintendent after a process that spawned a lawsuit over alleged violations of Colorado’s open meeting law, remains. a priority for Wise. “I believe in students, employees, teachers, leaders and the community,” he says. “It shows a need to step up and come together and do the right thing to make our schools healthier, better and stronger.”
Westword contacted the Douglas County School District for comment on the complaint. Click to read Corey Wise’s discrimination charge against the Douglas County School District and four members of the Douglas County School Board.