020422-news-protest 17.jpg

Jennifer Cancino, a seventh grade teacher at Mountain Ridge Middle School in Highlands Ranch, reacts as cars pass by during a protest of the school board majority’s alleged secret meeting about forcing out superintendent Corey Wise, at the Douglas County School District headquarters in Castle Rock, Colo., on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022. Hundreds people participated in the “Collaborative Action" protest, which was organized the teachers' union. The Douglas County School District cancelled classes Thursday after a large number of teachers submitted absences as part of the protest. (Chancey Bush /The Gazette)

After an executive session which lasted over an hour, the Douglas County School Board opened Wednesday's online special meeting with an announcement that the names of teachers who participated in a sick out Feb. would stay private.

"At this time the district will not be releasing the names," said Board President Mike Peterson, who went on to say that it was distressing that threatening leaflets had been placed on some teacher's cars earlier in the day.

"This is no way to move forward as a district. Our teachers should be respected and supported for the work they do for our students every day," said Peterson, who added that the district security team is looking into the incidents.

At least 1,000 teachers called in sick Feb. 3 to attend a rally in support of former Douglas County School Superintendent Corey Wise.

The school board fired Wise the day after the "sickout." Tensions in the Douglas County School District were high Wednesday as both sides in the dispute over Wise waited to see if the records request to release the teachers' names would be granted.

Minutes before the meeting was to begin, Douglas County School Board director David Ray had announced that a Colorado Open Records Act request seeking that the names be released had been withdrawn.

Wednesday's special board meeting was the first time since Jan. 25, the school board allowed the public to weigh in on the issues the district faces. Because of a snowstorm, the meeting was online-only.

Adding to the drama, some of the Douglas County educators who participated in the sickout found vitriolic flyers on their windshields Wednesday morning.

“Most teachers are good and we appreciate them. You are bad! Get out and Leave!” the flyers said. A teacher who wished to go unnamed sent a photo of a flyer to The Denver Gazette. “All teachers unions are bad! Teachers unions are not for the kids and not for the parents! The whole nation sees that!” it said.

According to the teacher, handouts were left on the windshields of vehicles parked in the teachers’ lot at Parker’s Legend High School.  

Ray, one of seven members on the Douglas County school board, told The Denver Gazette in a text message: “This is absolutely a pathetic and cowardly attempt to intimidate our teachers who are already burdened with incredible turmoil in our district.”

Earlier this week, an email sent by the district to teachers who participated in the sickout alerted them that it was going to respond to a Colorado Open Records Act request  and release the names of the teachers who called in sick  on Feb. 3. The email was a notification that the names would be released no later than close of business Wednesday.

The district had canceled class when the teacher sickout resulted in close to 1,500 unfilled teacher absences. In an email to parents, the district said “the number of absences has impacted our ability to provide a safe and supervised learning environment for students.”

The next night, Wise, a 26-year veteran of the Douglas County School District, was terminated during an emotional three-hour meeting, which was in-person and also livestreamed on the district’s website.

The vote was 4-3. Board President Mike Peterson said he could no longer work with Wise.

“Based on my observations, I think trust is essential for any employee relationships,” Peterson said. “I have concerns about the superintendent being able to make decisions for our children and the best interest of the students and staff.”

He also said that he wanted to work with Wise but that he didn't align with the vision of the board's new majority.

That day, a Highlands Ranch resident filed a lawsuit alleging the board's majority broke Colorado’s open meetings law during discussions that led up to the termination of the superintendent. 

An email sent Tuesday night to members of the Douglas County Federation from President Kevin DiPasquale responded to the possibility that the CORA would be released. It stressed the collective voices and actions of members are a constitutional right.

"We know any attempt to further intimidate staff erodes the false claims of wanting to build trust and respect with staff and the community by the new board majority," DiPasquale said.

At least 16 teachers have resigned from the Douglas County School District since Wise was fired Feb. 4, according to district spokeswoman Paula Hans. The district is Douglas County’s biggest employer, with around 3,500 teachers for grades K-12.

The Denver Gazette's Seth Klamann contributed to this report. 

Douglas County flyer

Teachers who participated in the Feb. 3 sick-out found flyers underneath their windshield wipers. An unnamed teacher told The Gazette that the leaflets were only applied to vehicles which had messages about union solidarity and in support of their fired superintendent painted on them. 

Corey Wise speaks during school board meeting

Corey Wise speaks during school board meeting

Douglas County School Board

From left to right: Douglas County school board majority members Kaylee Winegar, Christy Williams, Mike Peterson and Becky Myers

(Screenshot of YouTube meeting livestream on Feb.4) 

Denver Enterprise Reporter

A 40-year Colorado news veteran, Carol McKinley started in radio, and traveled the world as a network TV correspondent/producer. In 2021, she decided to return to local news. A Baghdad alum, she has 4 grown children and lives with her husband and her mom.

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