DENVER — When Douglas County School Board Directors Mike Peterson, Christy Williams, Becky Myers and Kaylee Winegar were elected in November, now-former superintendent Corey Wise says he felt hopeful he could work with them.
"So with the four and having representation across seven members, it's an opportunity," he said. "I've said all along, while board members change, my job is to lead the school district. What policies and how do we make that 'win, win' and make it successful? So absolutely, I felt after the election you maximize that opportunity and how you can use it and change is part of it."
Wise said in an interview with 9NEWS on Thursday that, from November all the way up to a Friday morning meeting in late January called by Board President Mike Peterson, the feedback toward Wise was positive.
It was at that meeting, Wise said, that Peterson and Williams informed him of an ultimatum.
"...and the statement of 'we're going in a different direction, the four individuals have talked, they made decisions, they sought out counsel to make decisions and that they want me to resign or they're going to terminate me, and they would go for cause' -- flipped my life upside down," Wise said.
More than two months later, he's under a new position, serving as the Interim Community Superintendent for Jefferson County Public Schools.
Next year, he will be Interim Assistant Superintendent of Educational Operation for the Cherry Creek School District, which he said Thursday he was excited about.
Now, in a newly-filed civil rights complaint, Wise alleges that the four conservative school board members illegally fired him for his work on behalf of students of color and students with disabilities.
"And to be retaliated against for doing what's right and legally protected, that's not OK," Wise said.
A spokesperson for the Douglas County School District said they had "nothing at this time" in response to the filing. The four board directors that make up the conservative majority did not initially respond to request for comment.
While Wise said following the meeting in late January, he felt that the decision was made. He also said, however, that on the night of the firing he was hopeful at times.
"...but even in my last comment of 'give me a chance, challenge me, let's get away from all the other stuff and let's see if we can really do,' I'm always going to maintain that hope," he said. "But it impacts our school district … who I am and what I've been a part of for so long. It's hard to see that especially when you think it's the wrong decision. And then how it happened is definitely where I feel it's not right. It's wrong."
Wise says since the firing, he has not had communication with newly-elected superintendent Erin Kane or any of the board directors that make up the conservative majority.
However, he said he has heard from a variety of people with the district.
"I have 20-plus years of relationships. So the outpouring of support -- people reach out. So absolutely there's been a ton of communication even today of congratulations on a new job. So there's continued conversations," he said.
Some of the arguments made in the new complaint allege Wise was subjected to "unlawful discrimination" for his "association with youth of color, LGBTQ+ students, and students with certain disabilities that make them particularly susceptible to severe symptoms or fatality from Covid-19."
Wise explained Thursday why felt the firing constituted the complaint, touching on his implementation of the masking policy in schools.
"...bottom line, as I said earlier, the work during COVID is how do you provide a safe and quality and high level academic experience for every single student," he said.
The complaint also alleges that there is retaliation in the case because "Mr. Wise engaged in protected opposition by objecting to the Douglas County Health Department’s discriminatory public health order and participating in a lawsuit to advocate for disabled students. The Individual Respondents (referencing the board directors in the conservative majority) at various points in time stated that the decision to discharge Mr. Wise was a result of his participation in the Student Plaintiffs’ efforts to seek an injunction against the public health order."
Wise said he felt this was part of his job.
"...when I take a stand and lead in a part of a lawsuit and I have to testify, and part of my job is to follow through in that policy and also follow through on what we legally cannot do and that's to protect our students who are most at risk and our employees, you know, that's that's a duty, that's an obligation, that's responsibility and that's part of the law," he said. "...you look at the case and the charges that the infractions upon the retaliation to terminate me under under those things, it's not OK."
When asked about whether or not Wise hopes the complaint can set some sort of precedent for the school board, Wise said: "So I don't know if you've got a precedent as much as, how do you improve actions and leadership? And be a strong governing board of leaders, let alone empower a school district to be a stronger school district and set measures."
Wise was also asked if he still believed in the future of the Douglas County School District.
"I love Douglas County. I love Douglas County schools. The problem is we've been through this before when trust is broken and hurt. It takes a long time to rebuild. We were doing great work in rebuilding that trust. You see that with the employee groups and the students and even the parents in this decision. It's humbling the outpouring of support, and now it's going to be a harder road," he said.
He added that he believes in the long term, the district will be "very good."
"So I believe in the staff and employees I -- trust has been broken. And Erin's unfortunately, in a position that she's gonna have to work hard with her role of the past and her role in the future," he said. "The teachers and leaders, the schools have the impact and they've led through before, and they'll continue to lead through no matter what. And that's that's the keystone of a school district."
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