By majority vote, the State Board of Education on Thursday declined to reconsider penalties it imposed on two districts last month under a state law banning certain conversations about race.
The council’s refusal followed a series of emotional appeals from community and district leaders in Tulsa and Mustang who revealed the consequences of the council’s action on their schools. On July 28, both districts were accredited with a warning for violating the provisions of the House Bill 1775.
“People are moving to Mustang because of the schools. My family moved to Mustang because of the schools in 1991. It hurts our community,” Mustang Mayor Brian Grider said. “We have been punished without this council’s willingness to listen to the facts and allow Mustang to be part of the process.”
Principal of Mustang High School, Kathy Knowles, said, “We are concerned to think that a teacher from another site who is simply trying to teach an activity in relation to empathy, who has made a mistake, risk of losing your job, losing your certification, contributing to Mustang Public Schools losing their accreditation… This kind of fear is crippling.
Board member Carlisha Williams Bradley’s motion to discuss Mustang’s accreditation review on Thursday was not approved by a majority of the board. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister voted yes, but council members Trent Smith, Sarah Lepak and Brian Bobek voted no. Board members Estela Hernandez and Jennifer Monies were absent.
Bradley made the same motion for Tulsa Public Schools, and it similarly failed.
In July, the Class Council the accreditation of the two districts in a movement considered largely political. Governor Kevin Stitt, who defended the law 2021 as a way to unite rather than divide people, recently said “people are kind of over the top,” referring to the community’s reaction to law enforcement, according to The Oklahoman.
The board of trustees, all appointed by Stitt except Hofmeister, rejected the state Department of Education’s recommendation of “accredited with impairment” and downgraded the districts one more step to “accredited with warning” to, as Hernandez put it, “send a message.” Accredited with Warning is reserved for issues that seriously impair the quality of the school’s educational program.
House Bill 1775 prohibits teachers and school staff from teaching eight specific concepts, including that one race or gender is superior to another, and that one race is inherently racist, and that everyone should feel discomfort, guilt or anxiety because of their race or gender.
In Tulsa, a teacher complained under Bill 1775 that an August 2021 staff training on implicit bias “includes statements that specifically shame white people.” State board members did not listen to the audio of the training before making their decision. Tulsa District leaders say the training did not violate the spirit or letter of the law and satisfied a state requirement for professional development.
Mustang’s complaint stemmed from a voluntary student activity called “Cross the Line” which aims to build empathy and reduce bullying among students. District leaders say they solved the problem within days.
The Department of Education is investigating an additional complaint under the law, according to department spokeswoman Leslie Berger. The district will not be identified until the survey is complete. This was not discussed at Thursday’s board meeting.
A secondary English teacher at Normandy public schools quit earlier this week amid a dispute with a district policy on class books linked to the 1775 bill. Summer Boismer had posted a scannable code in her classroom linked to free digital access to banned books through the Brooklyn Public Library Book Unban Programaccording to dispatches.
A district spokesperson said the teacher “during class time made personal and political statements and used his class to make a political demonstration expressing those views.” The teacher was briefly removed from the class, but was not fired. Boismer chose to resign.
Representing a group of students and educators, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in October against the 1775 House Bill and asked a judge for a preliminary injunction, which would stop the law while the case progresses before the tribunal. Recently, ACLU attorneys filed additional evidence based on the July board decision on Tulsa’s certification.
They argue that the law is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, leading to censorship and a chilling effect on free speech for teachers and students.