Douglas County school board member Elizabeth Hanson resigned Tuesday evening, stepping down before the board was set to vote on changes to the district’s equity policy — one of several areas in which Hanson and the conservative majority have had sharp differences.
“There are some egregious things that are happening on the board right now,” Hanson, who was elected in 2019, told Pointypress. Her resignation, which is effective immediately, comes months before her term was set to end in November.
“As a Board of Education, every decision that we make should be grounded in how are we making our district better for our students and our employees and this board is sadly failing both,” Hanson told the board when announcing her resignation.
She said “the last straw” was her colleagues’ recent refusal to settle a lawsuit that accused directors of violating Colorado’s open meeting law last year when they prepared to fire former Superintendent Corey Wise.
The lawsuit could cost the district as much as $500,000 — money Hanson said she believes should go to schools.
“I don’t feel I can look our students in the eyes and assure them that this board is doing everything in our power to meet our moral and or legal obligations to make sure that our students have an inclusive and safe learning environment,” Hanson said about the potential changes to the equity policy.
Tensions were high even before the meeting started, with parents and students rallying outside to oppose district officials’ handling of racism after a family spoke out about the treatment of a Black teen at Castle Rock Middle School.
The racism that 14-year-old Jeramiah Ganzy faced was so bad that his family is moving out of Castle Rock, his family and their attorney previously told Pointypress.
“The board needs to do more,” said Melissa Sutherland, a parent who organized the protest, before the meeting. “They certainly don’t stand up to racism.”
Superintendent Erin Kane addressed the protest during the meeting, saying “Racism in any form is unacceptable at DCSD.”
The school board was scheduled to vote on changes to the district’s equity policy, which has come under fire by conservatives who erroneously claimed the policy would lead to schools teaching critical race theory. The policy actually states how the district handles equity and diversity issues.
A previous school board passed the equity policy in March 2021, almost a year into the racial reckoning that followed the police killing of George Floyd and others. But later that year, four conservative members gained a majority on the seven-member board and as one of their first actions in 2022, directed the superintendent to review the equity policy and recommend potential changes.
A week later, the board fired Wise in a split vote. The three minority members, including Hanson, alleged at the time that the board’s president and vice president – Mike Peterson and Christy Williams – had issued Wise an ultimatum and violated Colorado’s open meeting law in the process.
Wise has also alleged his support of the equity policy contributed to his termination and the district has paid him more than $830,000 to settle discrimination claims over his firing.
Kane, who replaced Wise, did not recommend any specific changes to the equity policy after her review, according to a presentation given last month.
But the conservative board members, including Peterson, have proposed changes that their colleagues have said dilute the policy.
The changes include adding new definitions of “diversity,” beyond race, gender, sexual orientation, and disabilities. For example, the latest version includes “learning preference diversity,” which it defines as “differences in learning modes, preferences, and styles.”
Another paragraph added to the policy also says that students should take “ownership of their efforts to pursue selected pathways,” while supported by educators and parents.
“This acknowledges student agency – while circumstances do impact and shape a person, they are not the sole determining factor in their life,” the paragraph reads.
The proposed changes “weaken the policy,” said member Susan Meek in an interview before the meeting, adding, “The process has been rushed and is inadequate at this point to be making these decisions.”
Board members were also expected to vote on revisions to seven other policies during Tuesday’s meeting, including those on mental health and bullying prevention, according to the agenda.