By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver
(Castle Rock, CO) DougCo school board director Elizabeth Hanson abruptly resigned after reading a brief statement during this week's board meeting calling out majority directors Mike Peterson, Christy Williams, Becky Myers, and Kaylee Winegar for wasteful spending on lawsuits and allowing political agendas to come before students.
"Egregious things are happening on this board right now," said Hanson.
"I've made the heart-wrenching decision that I can no longer be a part of this and will be stepping down from my role as a director, effective immediately."
Hanson has repeatedly expressed frustration in the last few months about proposed changes to the district's equity policy that she feels are politically motivated and unnecessary.
She's also felt hopeless to do anything about it because the board majority is set on rewording, eliminating, and adding language, despite community and staff feedback that the policy is not confusing or ambiguous. It's the interpretation of the policy that leaves some concerned.
"As a board of education, every decision we make should be based on creating a better Douglas County School District for our students and employees. This board is failing both because politics and egos have become the primary agenda," she said.
Hanson doesn't believe she can stay on the board and continue to look students like Jeramiah Ganzy in the eye. Ganzy and his family have spoken publicly about the racist hate speech he endured while attending Castle Rock Middle School.
"Jeramiah is not the only student in our district who has experienced disgusting acts of racism, antisemitism, or homophobic or transphobic acts. I will never understand how your (the board majority) political party gets a bigger voice than our students to determine what policy changes you are going to push through and approve tonight."
Hanson said her biggest takeaway after the last few months is that she can't assure the district's students and families that the board is doing everything possible to meet its moral and legal obligations to ensure that something like this (what happened to Jeramaih) never happens again.
Rather than continue serving the rest of her term, which ends this year, Hanson felt she could do more for the community by calling attention to the board's dysfunction through her resignation.
"My hope is that by calling these things out in the biggest way possible and by refusing to be a part of it, more people in our community will become aware and ultimately become a part of the solution," she said.
Hanson finds it unacceptable that the board majority spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars that could've gone to classrooms to defend their actions when they fired former superintendent Corey Wise.
"I also cannot look our community - our taxpayers - in the eyes and assure them that every dollar in our budget is being spent wisely," she said.
"You have spent another hundred thousand plus on surveys and surveys and more surveys to be told with actual data that this board is too political with an embarrassingly low approval rating of 32%, which you just ignore and continue to push through your agenda as planned."
Gratitude for teachers and students
Hanson said meeting the amazing people who make up the DougCo school district has been the best part of the last four years.
"The people I've gotten to know, who've spent their lives giving to our students, are extraordinary humans. And I have been so grateful to get to know each of them."
She finds it heartbreaking that the same educators who show up day in and day out for their students and never stop working to make the district a better place are the same ones being accused of indoctrination and grooming by the conservative right.
"These teachers deserve a school board that is willing to put that same amount of effort in and fight for them because they are doing everything they can every single day for our kids."
Hanson's time on the board
Hanson won her seat on the school board in 2019 as a representative of District C, which primarily includes Highlands Ranch.
She decided to run in the aftermath of the 2019 STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting that took the life of Kendrick Castillo and the lockdown at Columbine High School that occurred on the 20th anniversary of the 1999 massacre.
School safety became her top priority, and she spent her first few months learning about district security and attending lockdown drills.
But after only a few short months, COVID-19 shut down schools and threw everything into chaos.
"Serving on the board of education during COVID was the hardest experience I have ever gone through in my life," said Hanson.
There was no road map for leading a district through a pandemic, and Hanson agonized over every board decision. While they didn't always agree as a group of seven, they at least had similar ideals and approaches to education.
But a wave of parent resentment over school closures and mask mandates turned board meetings into hours-long affairs that often got ugly.
"There was so much pressure to make the right decisions, and so many people had such strong opinions. It was impossible," she said.
"There was no way to make everyone happy."
By the end of 2021, the community had its say and elected a slate of four candidates running on the promise to end the mask mandate and to amend the district's new equity policy. The new majority fired the superintendent, resulting in an expensive settlement and ongoing lawsuit, teacher and student protests, and several high-level resignations.
By last summer, Hanson said she had a glimmer of hope that they could put aside their conflict and get back to putting the district's needs ahead of their own.
"I had to believe they were to continue showing up and giving everything I had every single day," she said. And for a time, the board worked in unison to gather community support for a property tax increase and a bond that would've raised teacher pay and built new schools.
They came close, but the effort failed.
With reports of systemic racism in the district and failure to settle an ongoing lawsuit making headlines, Hanson feels her departure will speak much louder than continuing to vote no on decisions where she will be overruled.
According to the Colorado Association of School Boards, the board has 60 days to appoint a person to fill the vacancy. If the board fails to do so within that timeframe, the board president must appoint a replacement.
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