‘We have to maintain a certain level of decorum’: Oklahoma State Board of Education meeting features political theatrics, little political discussion

Tulsa and Mustang Public Schools became the first school districts in Oklahoma to deal with the fallout from Oklahoma’s so-called critical race theory ban on Thursday.

The districts received a credentialing warning for violating Oklahoma’s House Bill 1775, a controversial law governing the teaching of racial and sexual concepts.

Another private school called Infinity Generation Preparatory – recommended for probation due to a litany of financial issues and student record reports – received the same warning.

But there were fireworks between those punishments. Oklahoma’s State Board of Education spent hours throwing thinly veiled attacks and political arguments at a meeting primarily about accrediting the state’s K-12 schools.

The board — almost entirely appointed by Gov. Kevin Stitt — ultimately approved accreditation for more than 1,000 school sites across the state, but spent hours discussing the status of a small handful. There has been relatively little discussion of actual educational policy in Oklahoma classrooms.

Accreditation is a complex and thorough process. The Oklahoma State Department of Education reviews a long list of metrics and determines whether schools are complying with federal and state rules and regulations.

There are basically five levels of accreditation:

  • Accreditation without gaps
  • Accreditation a defect
  • Multiple Impairment Accreditation
  • Accreditation with warning
  • Accreditation with probation

Schools with chronic problems could eventually have their accreditation revoked, and those at the lower end of the scale above face additional oversights from the Oklahoma Department of Education.

Here is some of what happened around the accreditation discussion for specific school districts and the only private institution:

Tulsa Public Schools

The Oklahoma State Board of Education has voted to add a disclaimer to Tulsa Public School Accreditation.

The move comes after Tulsa Memorial High School science teacher Amy Cook complained to the state Department of Education about what she called a violation of HB 1775. investigated by TPS for allegedly setting up a prayer corner in his classroom and telling a student they would ‘burn in hell’.

Tulsa activist Joyce Williams pleaded with the board before it voted to show evidence of the violation, which he did not publish.

“If there is evidence, be transparent and show it. But I’m against any possibility of penalizing Tulsa Public Schools, and believe me, I’m someone who attends every board meeting and raises questions,” Williams said.

The board nevertheless voted 4 to 2 to add the disclaimer to TPS’s certification.

“Accredited with warning is enough in this case because we need to send a message,” board member Estela Hernandez said at the meeting. She was joined in the vote for the warning by members Jennifer Monies, Brian Bobek and Sarah Lepak.

Board member Carlisha Williams Bradley, who voted no with State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, expressed shock at the TPS singling out.

“I am deeply troubled by what just happened,” Williams Bradley said. “You picked Tulsa Public Schools from this list of I don’t even know how many districts we just went through. Tulsa is the largest district in our state, and it’s also filled with mostly college students of color as we speak of 1775. It’s infuriating to sit in that seat.

“It’s an escalation that seems rather emotional,” Hofmeister said of the decision to go to a warning rather than just hitting the district for a deficiency.

The warning means that TPS is labeled as having a serious district-wide problem that impairs learning. Implications for the future and students are unclear, but the district will need to work with state officials to improve its accreditation status. A total of 11 districts received accreditation with warnings.

In response, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma said, “Make no mistake: Tulsa Public Schools are just the beginning. The longer HB 1775 is in effect, the more charges we will see.

TPS sent a lengthy statement to reporters after the meeting:

“At Tulsa, we teach our children a specific — and sometimes painful, difficult, and uncomfortable — story of our shared human experience,” the statement read. “We also teach in a beautifully diverse community and need our team to work together to be ready to do that well.”

This was the reason for a training that state officials deemed contrary to the HB 1775 standard given by a third party.

“It should be noted that Governor Stitt’s State Board of Education spent a great deal of time today discussing complaints from a teacher in our district (among hundreds of accreditation gaps throughout the ‘state) and no time on the catastrophic teacher shortage facing every district in our state,” the statement read.

Mustang Public Schools

Mustang Public Schools was another district called.

The district has been recommended for accreditation with impairment by the state Department of Education. It was eventually accredited with a caveat by a 4-2 vote, along the same lines as Tulsa’s vote.

Oklahoma reported Mustang has investigated its HB 1775 complaint internally. This was an in-class team building activity at Mustang Middle School in January.

“The intent of the teacher’s lesson was to show that each student has different experiences in life,” a Mustang report said. “There was also talk about the importance of treating others with kindness and respect, because people never really know what other people are going through.”

Hofmeister and Williams Bradley also criticized the board’s decision to vote on Mustang status.

The district wrote in a lengthy statement that it was surprised by the decision:

“We were shocked to learn of this action,” Superintendent Charles Bradley said in the statement. “Looking at the agenda item as it was published by the Council of State, I don’t know how any reasonable person could discern that this was happening. We were as surprised as anyone to hear our name mentioned today. After watching the replay of the Council of State meeting, it appears that at least one of the Council members, including one who proposed the increased sentence, was apparently unaware that we were registered for the agenda. »

“We are discouraged that this single outlier event prompted this severe action,” Supt. Bradley said in the statement. “We acted quickly to resolve the complaint to the complainant’s satisfaction, yet no consideration was given by the Council of State to our response to this event. With the Board’s action to increase the penalty beyond the recommendation, I seriously question the criteria for these accreditation categories. We look forward to working with the State Department to understand why this decision was made.

Infinity Generation

The board spent more than an hour discussing potential probation for a private Oklahoma City school, Infinity Generation Generals Preparatory School.

Department of Education officials have accused the school of financial mismanagement and misrepresentation of its size when applying for federal grant programs.

School founder Gina Darby accused the department of attacking her and her school because of his ties to Stittwho will face Hofmeister in the gubernatorial election in November after switching parties.

At one point council attorney Travis Jett stopped Darby mid-attack, saying, “We need a certain level of decorum.”

Ultimately, the board voted to give the private school an accreditation warning, despite a recommendation to put the school on probation.

Epic Charter School

Ironically, there was no discussion of the probation given to Epic Charter School at the meeting, or any of the other eight schools that received accreditation probation.

Epic has been probed for more than a dozen issues related to state law enforcement, finances and bullying charges that were laid out in a report last month.

This was the second time Epic Charter School had faced a state accreditation probation recommendation in recent years. The previous recommendation was from November 2020.

Hofmeister said she would recommend probation again at that meeting last month.

Other things to note

  • The board approved a new special education manual related to policies and procedures for special education.
  • Education Secretary Ryan Walters addressed the board during the public comment portion of the meeting and called on members to review the superintendent credentials of Deborah Gist of Tulsa. He and Stitt have been longtime critics of the Tulsa superintendent.

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