COLORADO SPRINGS — After just a few months under the supervision of the Colorado Springs District 11 Board of Education – soon after several conservative directors were newly voted in – the district’s superintendent, Dr. Michael Thomas, is out of a job.
In an – oftentimes emotional – special meeting that began after 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the board called the situation “a mutual separation agreement,” though rumblings of Dr. Thomas’ departure began months ago.
A group of parents and community members, called Neighbors for Education, who joined forces after the district paused the work of its Diversity and Equity Leadership Team (DELT), have been fighting in favor of Thomas and the efforts he began across the district when he was hired in 2018.
Given the opportunity to comment, Board Member Julie Ott apologized to Dr. Thomas regarding what she said was the public’s perception of an agenda that, some thought, would include the implementation of Critical Race Theory, a theory used exclusively in law school – and not taught in K-12 classrooms.
“It is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye,” Ott said, with a break in her voice. “And I’m mad because of all this misinformation.”
A statement released by Neighbors for Education on Wednesday read, in part: “[We have] long feared that the newly elected D11 Board of Education would force Dr. Thomas out of his position. This change in leadership negatively affects our community and will impact our students most.”
“This is on all of us together,” Ott said on the dais. “We have to do better.”
The group expressed concerns regarding the upheaval they believe this change will cause among students, parents, and staff. But they’re also asking questions about how this decision will affect the district’s finances, writing, “We are concerned that our School Board, who claims to make effective use of our budget, will be paying a new Superintendent while at the same time paying out Dr. Thomas’s contract.”
They’ve asked for the terms of his exit to be made public immediately. And they’re calling on Board President Parth Melpakam to “acknowledge the negative impact their decision has produced.”
Laura Nelson, one of the new members, said, “I know that this district has plans to move forward in a positive direction,” and thanked Thomas for his service to the district. “This is very difficult for everyone involved,” she said.
Al Loma, also recently voted in, said, “we can still like each other and disagree on certain things, apparently that was enough to start this whole ball rolling,” he said. “I will pray for you,” he added, though he’s been heavily criticized for his reverential tones in public and through email.
Dr. Thomas was also given the opportunity to speak, and first thanked the board and the community.
“Those who know me know I don’t just do this work because it’s my job,” he said. “This is my calling. I’m driven by my purpose that’s way greater than me.”
And he offered a parting statement before the meeting came to a close.
“To the community here and that’s listening – it will take all of us to move this district,” he said. “This is a great district. But it’s not perfect. This community is not perfect. But it’s great.”
The board approved a motion for Dan Hoff to move, temporarily, into Thomas’ role. He’s listed on the D11 website as Executive Director of School Leadership.
For its part, Neighbors for Education said, “The Board must work on its own leadership and work to hire a new superintendent who will help stabilize the district and who will work to serve the educational interest of EVERY student.”