DENVER – Former Douglas County School District Superintendent Corey Wise spoke publicly to Denver7 Thursday for the first time since he was fired in early February – on the same day his attorneys announced they had filed a civil rights complaint against the district and the four board members who voted to fire him over his termination.
Wise’s attorneys filed the discrimination complaints Wednesday night with the Colorado Civil Rights Division and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, arguing the district and the four board members elected last November – Mike Peterson, Becky Myers, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar – fired Wise “because of his association with and advocacy for students with disabilities and students of color, and in retaliation for, and in anticipation of, Mr. Wise engaging in protected activities.”
“You’re flipped upside down,” Wise said of how he felt after he was fired. “You lose sleep. Stress. You have the gamut of grief. Anger, depression – everything.”
The discrimination charge claims Wise’s civil rights were fired because of his advocacy for students with disabilities, LGBTQ students and students of color, as well as his support for the district’s equity policy and mask mandate, which the new board voted to drop almost immediately after taking office. The filing anticipates the district and majority board members “will fabricate pretextual reasons for terminating Mr. Wise” in response to the filings.
The school district declined to comment on the filing on Thursday. Wise also announced Thursday he will join the Cherry Creek School District next schoolyear as the interim assistant superintendent for educational operations. He is currently working as the community superintendent for the Jefferson County School District.
Wise’s attorneys said they don’t have a specific monetary figure in mind if they are successful, but they say to make up for the two unfulfilled years of his contract, as well as benefits and damages would be in the seven figures.
Wise himself said Thursday he wants justice.
“I want what’s right. I think when things are violated, they need to be improved on accountability,” he said.
Wise said he felt blindsided when two of the four newly elected board members met with him in January and told him to quit or be fired after around 25 years of work inside the district. He said he recorded the meeting and walked out asking himself: “Did that really just happen?”
The board majority then fired him without cause the next week, claiming they wanted to take the district in a different direction.
“I think the four have put themselves and the school district and the community in a tough situation, and their actions, I’m disappointed in,” he said.
The board has since hired Erin Kane to be its superintendent.
But he said he wouldn’t have done anything in his job as superintendent differently, though he has concerns for the future of the students and employees of the district.
“You have dreams and you’ve seen some of those dreams that you want to give a chance to continue to do, and when that’s taken away, you’re upside down. For the first time, you don’t have a job,” Wise said. “It’s taken us backwards in trust, and I worry about the future.”
Editor's Note: The longer version of the interview with Wise will air Thursday on Denver7 News at 10.