DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — Former Douglas County School District (DCSD) superintendent Corey Wise alleges in a newly-filed civil rights complaint that conservative school board members illegally fired him for his work on behalf of students of color and students with disabilities.
The expansive complaint filed with the Colorado Civil Rights Division and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says Wise was subjected to illegal discrimination and retaliation for backing masks in the classroom in 2021 to protect students with disabilities from COVID-19 and for supporting the district’s equity policy.
The complaint claims that the conservative majority on the school board “ran for office on a campaign platform to dismantle DCSD’s newly enacted equity policy and to end masking in DCSD schools” and, upon entering office in 2022, fired Wise “because of his association with and advocacy for students with disabilities and students of color….”
A complainant need not be a member of a legally protected class, the complaint asserts, to be subject to illegal actions in retaliation for advocating on behalf of those groups.
The board majority, the complaint says, “engaged in discrimination and retaliation based on Mr. Wise’s advocacy for youth and staff of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and students with disabilities.”
The EEOC has the power to impose financial penalties for violations of civil rights law. The complaint does not specify what relief is sought.
EEOC complaints are not public. A copy of the complaint was provided by Wise’s attorney.
Wise was fired in February during a contentious, rambling board meeting where Wise forced board members to state their case for his firing in a public session and they were largely unable to do so.
“Bring it on,” Wise said about the idea of firing him for cause.
Wise was ultimately fired without cause under his contract, prompting a payout of one year’s salary.
His firing after 25 years with DougCo Schools prompted an outpouring of support from educators around the state.
He was quickly hired as an interim community superintendent in JeffCo Schools for the remainder of the school year. On Wednesday, Wise’s attorney, Qusair Mohamedbhai, said Wise had been hired as Interim Assistant Superintendent for Educational Operations for Cherry Creek Schools for the next school year.
Cherry Creek Schools confirmed the hiring to 9NEWS.
Members of the conservative board majority made a series of appearances on talk radio shows and Fox News Channel where they offered a variety of rationales for Wise’s firing ranging from a perception that he wasn’t sufficiently opposed to DougCo’s teachers union to his enforcement of mask mandates.
Appearing on KNUS-AM in February, Board President Mike Peterson suggested that the board majority had a reason to fire Wise for cause but didn’t use it.
“We could have come in, removed the superintendent for cause, and installed somebody else,” Peterson said, without elaborating on the cause.
Wise’s EEOC complaint mentions that Wise has other legal claims that may be pursued elsewhere but does not mention reputational damage specifically.
The filing does say that members of the board majority are “knowingly and intentionally seeking to discredit Mr. Wise in the eyes of the public in order to avoid liability for violating the law and to conceal their discriminatory and retaliatory motives for terminating Mr. Wise.”
This article will be updated with any comments offered by DougCo Schools.