Corey Wise has broken his silence – and the ousted superintendent has filed a legal complaint against his former employers alleging retaliation, discrimination and that his infamous firing was unlawful.
The former Douglas County School District superintendent filed a ‘discrimination complaint’ on April 13 with the Colorado Division of Civil Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – the agencies that can formally authorize Wise to sue the district.
He claims that the majority of the Douglas County School Board discriminated against and retaliated against him because of his advocacy for the district’s education equity policy and universal masking during the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19.
Before being fired without cause on February 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 council majority was elected in November 2021 and quickly began working to lift the district’s blackout mandates and consider a repeal of the district’s education equity policy, issues Wise had supported.
Board majority of Mike Peterson, Becky Myers, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar later dismissed wise in a 4-3 vote, a decision that led to protests in the community and among students.
Allegations that Wise’s manner of firing was unlawful surfaced on January 31, when the minority of the board of directors of David Ray, Susan Meek and Elizabeth Hanson publicly alleged the Majority used “daisy chain” meetings to plan Wise’s removal from the public eye, then gave him an ultimatum to resign or be fired in another closed-door meeting.
Wise has spent his entire 26-year career in the district, starting as a teacher and working his way up to superintendent. His term as superintendent began on May 12, 2021 and would have ended on June 30, 2024.
Wise’s discrimination complaint alleges that the real grounds for his termination were the majority’s belief that he stood between them and what the lawsuit describes as discriminatory policies that the four wanted to pursue.
While the majority opposed universal masking mandates, Wise supported the district’s use of these precautions to protect high-risk students and vulnerable staff from COVID-19. The former superintendent was also a supporter of the district’s equity policy, which drew backlash among local conservatives who equated implementing the policy with teaching critical race theory.
“Mr. Wise’s dismissal was also an unlawful act of retaliation against what the majority of the board perceived to be Mr. Wise’s opposition to his political preferences – but which was in fact Mr. Wise’s legally protected opposition to discrimination, which he believed in good faith to be required by state and federal civil rights law,” the complaint states.
The legal document outlines a long list of statements from the Majority’s Kids First campaign that Wise’s legal team presents as evidence that the Majority holds discriminatory views against people more susceptible to COVID-19, people of color and LGBTQ+ people.
For example, the complaint cites comments Peterson disapproved of one of her daughter’s math questions that featured a same-sex couple. The complaint says Peterson credited the question with inspiring him to run for the school board.
Their disapproval of Wise’s involvement in the universal masking requirement, and his involvement in a lawsuit the district filed against the local health department opposing the masking mandate, “motivated the majority of the board to unlawfully fire Mr. Wise,” the complaint reads.
“Similarly, another key platform embraced by individual respondents was hostility and opposition to ‘constructions’ of gender and sexuality, ‘critical race theory’, and anti-discrimination efforts aimed at to support racial minorities more broadly, which individual respondents crystallized in opposition to the district’s education equity policy,” the complaint states.
The ousted superintendent’s complaint also says his dismissal resulted in personal suffering, including anxiety and depression, “and had a significant impact on his personal and family life.”
The allegations do not mean that Wise believes he was discriminated against or retaliated against as a protected class person, but rather because he stood up for the civil rights of students and staff.
The complaint offers more details about the meeting where Board Chairman Peterson and Vice Chairman Williams privately asked Wise to step down.
The three met at a Parker cafe shortly before 7 a.m. on January 28. Peterson told Wise he wanted to “cut to the chase,” according to the complaint. Peterson then told Wise that the Majority was speaking independently and “looking to move in a different direction towards a new superintendent,” according to the complaint.
Williams told Wise she wanted to do the right thing and that “we don’t want to make this super public, but we’re willing to do it if that’s the direction it needs to go,” Williams said. in the complaint.
The complaint says Wise told administrators that his entire career had been at DCSD and that the approximately two years remaining on his contract “fit in perfectly with his retirement plans.” He asked why the board wanted a new superintendent, to which Williams reportedly said, “I think we have a very good case.”
The complaint cites Williams as referring to “a lot of things going on behind the scenes to work against the four (new board members). So when I say us, I’m just talking about the four of us, not the board.
“I know of meetings that have taken place that probably shouldn’t have taken place, without at least Mike knowing about it,” Williams told Wise, according to the complaint. The administrators said they considered all options to end Wise’s contract with council counsel and asked Wise to increase his retirement plans. They told him that four directors were “absolutely determined to go in a different direction,” the complaint states.
The complaint also states that Peterson told Wise the district would pay him through June 2022, but also “advised Superintendent Wise that he had to accept the offer or they might have to ‘go for a cause.'”
Wise urged a policy of equity
The equity policy “incorporated, system-wide, the district’s existing legal obligations to address discrimination against its students and staff,” the complaint states.
The district began work on its Equity Policy under former Superintendent Thomas Tucker. The need for an equity policy “was evident based on the startling lack of diversity among DCSD staff and the documented instances of racism experienced by students,” the complaint states.
As of December 2020, the district had one black principal and 60 black teachers out of its 4,440 licensed educators. In the wake of George Floyd’s death, students urged the district to make diversity, equity and inclusion a system priority, the complaint says.
Wise had advocated for the equity policy when it was first created, and as acting superintendent he was “intimately involved in implementing the policy” after it was enacted. This included assisting the district equity team in coordinating DCSD’s “first diversity and inclusiveness trainings” and helping to develop restorative practices.
The complaint alleging he was unlawfully fired and retaliated against says the Majority campaign revealed hostility among the four toward racial equity.
“Interviewees also made it clear that they did not view Mr. Wise as an ally in their crusade against equity politics and racial inclusion generally,” the complaint states.
To manage COVID-19, Wise helped implement blended learning as executive director of schools at the start of the 2020-21 school year while Tucker was still superintendent. Wise personally supported in-person learning, the complaint says, but the district walked away completely from Nov. 30, 2020, to Jan. 5, 2021.
The complaint says political polarization regarding the pandemic increased in October, including in Douglas County.
The complaint highlights how Wise parted ways with the then-incumbent school board regarding in-person learning during COVID. While drafting proposals for a phased return to in-person learning in January and February 2021, the board voted against that plan and extended remote learning. Protests followed.
In October, the new Douglas County Health Department passed a resolution allowing any child to opt out of masking warrants in the county with a note from a parent. The school district sued in federal court alongside nine students, saying the health order violated the civil rights of students with disabilities and who were particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
“Mr. Wise took seriously his obligation to provide a safe environment for all students and stood in solidarity with students with disabilities who were at greater risk to their health if they contracted COVID-19,” the complaint states. .
The DCSD could not comply and provide these students with equal access to education, according to this federal lawsuit.
Wise was called to testify and “engaged in protected activity,” according to his April 14 filing, providing a statement alongside the district’s request for a temporary restraining order. Wise said the health department order would reduce masking and make students with disabilities more vulnerable to the virus. A judge granted the district a temporary restraining order in the case.
“No parent should have to choose between sending their child to school and risking their health, and no family should have to worry that their child will face a life-threatening illness just to access their right to a good education. “Wise told the time of the judge’s order, according to his complaint.
This is a developing story.