Douglas County school board changes equity policy amid protests

School board member Elizabeth Hanson resigned ahead of the vote Tuesday night
Elizabeth Hanson douglas county school district resigns
Posted at 7:32 PM, May 23, 2023

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — Douglas County School District Board of Education approved changes to its equity policy during Tuesday night's meeting amid protests.

Elizabeth Hanson, one of the three minority members on the board, resigned ahead of the vote, effective immediately, because she said changing the equity policy failed the students.

The board voted to make updates to the policy that expand the definition of diversity so broadly some board members expressed concern it diluted the intention of the policy. Revisions also put the responsibility of achieving equity on the student, not the district or staff.

Before the meeting, parents and students protested 'racism' outside the building, in support of 8th grader Jeramiah Ganzy who said classmates called him racial slurs at school while teachers stood by without intervening.

Ganzy, 14, told Denver7 he's experienced so much racism at Castle Rock Middle School that he no longer feels safe there. His parents plan to file a lawsuit, claiming the school district downplayed the other students' behavior as bullying instead of a hate crime.

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The Douglas County School District said racism and discrimination are not acceptable, and staff are dedicated to school safety.

However, Hanson said the board isn't meeting its legal obligations to make sure something like what happened to Ganzy doesn't happen again.

"I very much appreciate the explanation from our administrative team this evening, but I want to be very clear: Jeramiah Ganzy is not the only student in this district that has experienced disgusting acts of racism, of antisemitism, of homophobic and of transphobic acts," Hanson said during Tuesday's meeting.

Hanson's term was set to end in November, according to the district's website, before she resigned Tuesday night.

"I am stepping down from my role as a director, effective immediately, because politics and ego are the primary agenda of this board," Hanson said.

Hanson also discussed the district's financial state, saying the board has frivolously spent money that "belongs to classrooms."

"You have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars that belong to classrooms to defend yourselves because you broke the law when you fired Corey Wise," she said, receiving applause from those in attendance.

Former Superintendent Corey Wise said he was fired in February 2022 due to his "perceived and/or actual role in developing and executing the DCSD's Educational Equity Policy."

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Last month, Wise reached a more than $832,000 settlement for wrongful termination with the district.

The four majority school board members are the subject of a lawsuit for alleged violations of Colorado Open Meetings Law in connection to Wise's removal.

"Basic fiduciary duties as a director require you to put the needs of the organization over your own personal needs. Yet, in every single discussion that we have had around settling the litigation for the Open Meetings Law violation, I have heard nothing other than how this impacts you directly," Hanson said.

Hanson said the district has spent "another hundred thousand plus [dollars]" on surveys "to be told you're too political."

"There are egregious things happening on this board right now. My hope is that by calling attention to them in the biggest way possible by refusing to continue to be a part of this, the people in our community will become more aware and will ultimately become a part of the solution, which we so desperately need right now," she said.

The school board has been politically split since the 2021 election. The four newest school board members — Board President Mike Peterson, Board Vice President Christy Williams, Becky Myers and Kaylee Winegar — have taken the district in a decidedly different direction. The first policies of the new board were to rescind the district's mask policy and make major changes to its equity policy.

Hanson concluded her speech Tuesday night by thanking her fellow minority members — David Ray and Susan Meek — as well as the district's teachers and employees before walking out of the meeting.

Click here to watch the school board meeting.

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