Member of the Douglas County Schools Board at an emergency meeting Feb. 4, 2020, where Superintendent Corey Wise was fired by the board after a tumultuous week of teacher protests and allegations of illegal meetings by some schools board members.

AURORA | The Douglas County School District has settled a wrongful firing discrimination lawsuit from former Superintendent Corey Wise for $562,000, Wise’s lawyers announced Monday.

The district previously paid Wise $270,000 to buy him out of his superintendent contract in 2022 when he was fired without cause, bringing the total amount he has received from the district to more than $832,000.

The Monday news release said that settlement money came from the school board’s insurance policy.

Wise was represented in the case by Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC, a high-profile civil rights law firm that represented Elijah McClain’s mother Sheneen McClain in her civil lawsuit against the City of Aurora.

Wise was fired by the Douglas County school board in a 4-3 vote in February 2022 after a new conservative majority was elected to the board in the past fall’s election. During the contentious and emotional meeting, which was held in open session at Wise’s request, board members struggled to articulate a clear reason for why they were firing Wise.

Wise briefly joined Jeffco Public Schools after being fired and currently works in the Cherry Creek School District as assistant superintendent for educational operations.

The four board members who voted to fire Wise, Becky Myers, Michael Peterson, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar,  were all elected in November 2021 as the conservative “Kids First” slate. On the campaign trail, the four voiced criticisms of masking in schools and the district’s first-ever equity policy, which was put in place in 2021. 

Wise’s complaint alleged that his firing was an illegal act of retaliation for his advocacy of masking in the school district in the midst of the pandemic. He claimed the board also took issue with his role in developing and implementing the district’s racial and social equity policy.

A 26-year veteran of the Douglas County School District before his firing, the complaint said the board’s actions sought to discredit Wise in the eyes of the public and had caused him “pain, suffering, anxiety, and depression.”

“The not so thinly veiled discriminatory and retaliatory animus exhibited by Board Members Myers, Peterson, William, and Winegar towards historically vulnerable and disenfranchised students in the district and their advocates has resulted in real harm to Douglas County’s students and their quality of education,” the release said. “Sadly, these individuals have put their own political aspirations and plotting over the well-being and success of students and families in the district.”

Wise was replaced by Erin Kane, a charter school leader for the district and former interim superintendent from 2016 to 2018. Reporting from Colorado Community Media suggests that Kane was aware of the board majority’s attempts to fire Wise before the news became public.

Since his ouster, turbulence has continued at the school district. A mill levy override and bond increase the district presented to voters in the 2022 midterm election both failed to pass, causing the district to lose out on money that would have gone to 9% teacher raises and $450 million for new schools and building upgrades.

Prior to the election, Kane and the school board criticized what they said was misleading language in the county’s voter guide, which included a complaint about “woke ideology” in the classroom, according to reporting from the Denver Post.

More recently, the school board turned down a request from the chairman of the Douglas County GOP to allow staff members to carry firearms while at school.  

The board is in process of implementing the district’s current equity policy, with Kane scheduled to present an implementation plan to the board later this month. According to reporting from Colorado Community Media, a survey of community members about the policy found that “68% of respondents want curriculum that promotes critical thinking and problem-solving, and 62% want historically-accurate and comprehensive social studies.”

In the release, Wise thanked those in the community who supported him and said that voters should elect a new slate of board members, who he alleged had “destroyed trust between community members, engendered hate within our county, and degraded the quality of education for our students.”

Wise said he was proud of his work  in the school district and hoped his experience “sheds light on the dangers of politicizing student education and spreading misinformation about students, personnel, curriculum, and school policies.”

A separate lawsuit against the school board majority filed by state Rep. Bob Marshall, D-Highlands Ranch, is ongoing. The lawsuit alleges that the members violated Colorado open meeting law by discussing Wise’s removal in private, one-on-one meetings.

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1 Comment

  1. Lesson Learned (again):

    Don’t let elected officials make rash personnel decisions that completely lack a solid legal basis and a rational estimate of the full costs when things blow up.

    Too bad the board members who fired him can’t be held to account, financially.

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