The Conservative Assault on Education Claims Its Latest Victim

A newly elected school board fires superintendent who supported diverse hiring.

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In a move reflecting the increasing dysfunction and political polarization plaguing American public education, the recently elected conservative majority of a Colorado county school board has voted to oust a district leader who supported policies, including masking and a DEI initiative, they had overturned. Corey Wise, the superintendent for Douglas County, Colorado, was dismissed on Friday by a 4-3 vote with two years remaining in his contract.

According to the Denver Post, on Monday the board’s three liberal members said they had uncovered that the conservatives had privately issued an ultimatum to Wise in January: either resign or be voted out. The liberals claimed that the move violated Colorado’s open-meeting laws, which can bar officials from acting without adequately informing their colleagues or the public. 

The allegation of an ultimatum triggered a fierce backlash this week from parents, teachers, and students in the county, approximately 1,000 of whom gathered Thursday for a protest in support of Wise. Enough teachers called out of work to attend the demonstration that the district was forced to cancel the day’s classes. But on Friday evening, in a heated and at times hostile meeting, the conservative school board members went ahead and voted to replace Wise.

“What we want with this district is different,” said Kaylee Winegar, one of the four new conservative board members, all of whom won election in November. “It’s more about finding someone who better aligns.” Another, Christy Williams, faulted Wise’s leadership style as “more reactive instead of proactive,” complaining he had waited for the board to vote to end a mask mandate rather than end it himself. 

Douglas County, where Trump won a majority of votes in 2020, has become a locus of the national fights over equity and coronavirus safety measures that have dominated headlines about schools over the last year. The four conservative school board members who fired Wise ran in 2021 on platforms attacking critical race theory, drawing support from conservative PACs and an admiring feature on Fox News.

After taking office, the new majority voted in December to drop the district’s mask mandate, even as case counts surged during the Omicron wave, and later took a controversial move to amend the district’s equity policy, which had called for more diverse hiring and a curriculum overview.

Liberal board member Elizabeth Hanson choked up when she voted against the motion ousting Wise. “I need to be very clear that this decision wasn’t about performance in any way, and that this is politics at its ugliest and purest and most destructive form,” she said. “This is an attack on public education.”

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