DENVER – The Douglas County School District planned to release the names of teachers and staffers who asked off work Feb. 3, on the same day as a protest over the school board’s imminent firing of the district superintendent, in response to a public records request.
However, during a special meeting Wednesday night, the board said it would not be releasing the names, though no explanation was given as to why.
During the meeting, the board discussed choosing and naming a superintendent after the new conservative “Kids First” majority on the board, elected in November as part of a movement against COVID-19 restrictions, fired former Superintendent Corey Wise without cause earlier this month.
Pushback to superintendent’s firing
The previous school board unanimously selected Wise, who’s been with the district for 25 years, as the sole finalist for interim superintendent in September 2020 after Thomas Tucker resigned in September for personal and family reasons. He was officially named superintendent in April 2020 after a months-long, nationwide search that included 100 potential candidates and four finalists.
After the election in November 2021, the new conservative majority, initially said they were confident Wise could do the job.
"We want to give him the chance. It's a grace period. Our district in three, four years, it has had three superintendents. It wouldn't be healthy to go in and turn over tables, fire people and get rid. That's not how we work," board member Becky Myers said during an interview with Denver7 right after the election.
During a public Zoom meeting Jan. 31, the three minority members of the board, Elizabeth Hanson, Susan Meek and David Ray, said they were informed that President Mike Peterson and Vice President Christy Williams secretly sought Wise’s resignation, which they claimed was a violation of their contracts and state law.
Hundreds of educators did not show up for school on Feb. 3 after news leaked that the majority was trying to fire Wise without consulting with the full board and without cause ahead of a school board meeting the next day.
In that meeting on Feb. 4, the majority members of the school board voted 4-3 to oust Wise as superintendent without hearing public comment.
"Mistakes will happen. We won't be perfect, but we will drive to be the very best that we can be because Douglas County wants to be the best district in the state, but we are going to be the best district for every single person," Wise told the board and audience. "I love you all. And to our community, whether you know them or don't, whether you like me or you don't ... I promise you I’ll fight with you."
DCSD to release names of educators who called out Feb. 3
Douglas County School District teachers and staffers who requested absences on Feb. 3 for any reason were notified in emails Tuesday that the list of names would be released Wednesday, including the names of staff who called in only after the district called a no-student contact day.
The email to teachers on Tuesday said the responsive records for the request included teachers’ or staffers’ names and that the response to the request was due by close of business Wednesday.
The Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request asked for “all documents,” including emails, absence request forms, and paid time off requests from teachers and staff, who asked for absences on Feb. 3.
Peterson, the “Kids First” board president who ousted Wise, said in an email to staff, which was obtained by Denver7, that he “will not tolerate or condone retaliation against any teacher or other employee in this district.”
Peterson also said he has asked who filed the CORA request and why. Denver7 has submitted a CORA request to obtain the name of the person who made the CORA request for the teachers’ and staffers’ names.
“I recognize that there is uncertainty right now, and hopefully, that will be resolved in the near future,” Peterson wrote.
“Kids First DCSD understands that the district must release this information when asked. However, we want to condemn the request of this list and any publication or use of this list, especially by any media outlet or journalist,” the Facebook post said. “This community should not tolerate any abuse or harassment of our teachers or staff. This is no way to heal division. Let’s treat each other better than this.”
Before the teachers and staffers walked out in protest on Feb. 3, but after they had made their intentions known, Republican former 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, a Douglas County resident and parent, said on his radio show that the names of the teachers participating should be released publicly.
“My vote is the school board vote to publish online the names of every single teacher who bails on school tomorrow in support of their interests,” he said on the show – a sentiment echoed by some other conservatives in the area.
In response, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, tweeted that releasing those names would amount to doxxing – publicly releasing the names and other personal details of opponents.
“Public discussion and debate is healthy and important,” the governor said. “But doxxing of elected officials, journalists, and now teachers is always wrong and dangerous.”
But some Douglas County teachers who have spoken anonymously with Denver7 this week out of fear of retribution said they are concerned for their safety and about retaliation once the list is released.
One teacher sent a photo to Denver7 of a flier they said had been placed on their car at a Douglas County high school that said, “Most Teachers Are God and We Appreciate Them! You Are Bad! Get Out and Leave! … Douglas County parents, Grandparents, and Taxpayers OWN the schools! Remember That!”
Teachers at two different schools — Legend High School and Iron Horse Elementary — found the letters on their cars Wednesday, which had their windows painted in support of Wise, according to those who received them.
“It’s been jarring. It’s been heartbreaking – so many different emotions to cycle through. This was aggressive. It was a cowardly act. It just felt really uncomfortable,” said teacher Megan Gray. “I also just think that this is just not the way to handle conflict.”
Gray said the letters feel like an intimidation tactic. She agreed to speak with Denver7 because she says it’s important to set a good example for students. She is also a graduate of Legend High School herself.
“I really do believe that most of our community is with teachers and supports teachers,” she said. “What I don’t like is seeing that there is a risk of our students losing some really incredible educators.”
A spokesperson for the district said last Friday that 16 teachers had resigned since Feb. 4 – the day the school board majority fired Wise – out of roughly 3,500 teachers.
One of them was Sid Rundle, the Special Education Services Officer for DCSD, who resigned after 28 years with the district. He submitted his resignation on Feb. 5, saying in the letter he “no longer aligns” with the direction the district was taking after the board fired Wise.
“This is a duly and fairly elected Board and represents the will of the majority voting public in Douglas County. Last night they revealed much about themselves and their intentions that I find deeply and incompatible,” he wrote in his resignation. “Despite their propaganda, they do not value loyalty, hard work, dedication, relationships, decency, humility, or integrity. Instead, they showed themselves to be firmly yoked to political influence, arrogant ideology, and a disdain for due process. Simply put, if they are not aligned to the values of Corey Wise, then they are not aligned to mine either and their actions last night were a blow to me as well.”
"We are not going to stand before injustice, discrimination and abuse of powerful posts. We are students and this is our school. We should have a say in what happens," said Emily, an eighth grader at Cresthill Middle School who asked her last name not be used.
Wednesday’s school board meeting to discuss the superintendent search is set to begin at 5 p.m. and can be streamed live by clicking here. The meeting will be virtual only because of Wednesday's snowstorm. According to the agenda, they will discuss a timeline and job description for hiring the new superintendent.
A vote on finalists could come as early as next week, according to an agenda attachment – far faster than other superintendents have been selected by districts in the metro area, including DCSD, in the past few years.