Dougco’s school board an ugly mirror image of Denver’s

Everything’s relative, but compared to the shenanigans in Douglas County, the Denver Public Schools board is looking almost rational these days.

That’s not to give the DPS board a pass for some of its bizarre and ill-conceived moves and proposals since November. But the newly elected Dougco board majority appears to be doing its Trumpian best to steal the limelight from its Denver counterparts.

Less than 30 miles separate the headquarters of the two school districts, but their boards of education might as well exist in different universes.

As diametrically opposed as they are politically, these two school boards, in their first two months in power, have at least two things in common. First, they’ve been ham-handed in their early moves. And second, they seem averse to transparency.

I’ve written extensively (here, here, and here, for example) about the DPS board’s agenda as well as its blunders, so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice it to say that the board’s apparent desire to limit parental choice and push a teachers-union driven wish-list of policy changes does not always serve the best interests of students.

In Dougco, a new, conservative majority in the affluent, predominantly white district has fired the superintendent, in part over the contents of a reasonable equity policy that has nonetheless been sucked into the maw of the right-wing media’s hysteria over the often-mislabeled Critical Race Theory.

The board, driven by its new conservative majority, made national news by voting 4-3 to fire Superintendent Corey Wise in early February. This came after the four new members held at least one possibly illegal secret meeting to plot the coup.

Board President Michael Peterson said in a Fox News interview that he and his conservative colleagues had concluded that “it was just (Wise’s) performance over time, trust with the board members, and the direction that the district was going really wasn’t changing.”

That’s a lot to conclude after barely a month working with Wise. Even if the new board members came in determined to fire Wise, wouldn’t it have been smarter to display patience and build a case? It’s the mirror image of the DPS board’s impulsive extension of Superintendent Alex Marrero’s contract..

Wise’s firing seems to have stemmed in part from the district’s equity policy, enacted last year. In the current political environment, where every hint of potential controversy is amplified by social media into a cataclysm, some county residents concluded that the equity policy amounted to the camel’s nose of Critical Race Theory under the Dougco tent.

Reading the policy certainly doesn’t lead me to that conclusion. In a district as lacking in diversity among students and staff as Dougco, and with a history of yawning achievement gaps and claims of racism towards kids and employees of color, reexamining the history of this country from a variety of perspectives might foster the kind of critical thinking everyone professes to want kids to learn.

The equity policy, now ordered by the new majority to be reviewed and likely gutted, commits Dougco schools “to ensuring that every DCSD student and staff member has access to equitable and rigorous educational opportunities,” according to a summary on the district’s educational equity web page. “The policy also reaffirms DCSD’s commitment to providing an inclusive culture to ensure all students, staff, and community members feel safe and valued.”

What sounds so threatening about that?

Now word is circulating that the board is about to accelerate its hiring process and name a new superintendent sooner rather than later. Rumors abound about who this person will be, but there’s little doubt she or he will share the board majority’s hard-right worldview. 

Expect more tumult and dysfunction in Dougco in the months and years to come.

Alan Gottlieb
Alan Gottlieb
Alan Gottlieb is Boardhawk’s editor. Alan has been a Denver-based journalist for more than 30 years. He covered DPS for the Denver Post in the mid-1990s, worked as an education program officer for The Piton Foundation, and co-founded Education News Colorado and Chalkbeat. For the past five years, he has worked as a contract writer and communications consultant.

Quickhits

Opinion

News