One of Tulsa Public Schools' bright, blue activity buses used as a mobile hotspots to help students connect to the internet during the pandemic. (Photo provided.)
August 4, 2022

In a meeting that was at times fiery and contentious, the state Board of Education last week voted to lower the standing of two large school districts under a new state law restricting certain conversations about race and gender.

Tulsa and Mustang Public Schools are the first to face consequences under House Bill 1775, which was signed into law in 2021. The legislation restricts teachers and school staff from teaching eight specific concepts, including that one race or sex is superior to another, and that one race is inherently racist, and that any person should feel discomfort, guilt or anguish because of his or her race or sex.

Board members, all of whom were appointed by Gov. Kevin Stitt, first focused on Tulsa schools. A high school teacher complained under HB 1775 that a staff training in August 2021 on implicit bias “includes statements that specifically shame white people.”

The department’s legal staff didn’t find a violation in the materials for the training. But audio of the session, which isn’t being publicly released because of the vendor’s licensing agreement, contained banned concepts – though it was a “close call” according to the department’s attorney, Brad Clark.

Some board members wanted to go beyond the department’s recommendation of “accredited with deficiency” and moved to bump it up to “accredited with warning” on the state’s accreditation scale. One board member, Estela Hernandez, argued that Tulsa is the state’s largest district and the board’s action needed to send a message.

The board voted 4-2 to accredit Tulsa with a warning. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and Carlisha Williams Bradley voted no.

When it came to the board’s attention that Mustang Public Schools had also received a complaint under HB 1775, for an anti-bullying activity held in a leadership class, the board meted out the same harsh punishment of accreditation with warning.

The warning does not affect the district’s funding this year, but it puts the district at risk of losing accreditation if additional complaints are substantiated.

Mustang Public Schools’ Superintendent Charles Bradley said he was shocked by the board’s decision.

“We are disheartened that this single outlier event has resulted in this harsh action,” he said, noting that the district addressed the complaint quickly and “to the complainant’s satisfaction.”

The Tulsa district responded in a written statement that said: “In Tulsa, we are teaching our children an accurate—and at times painful, difficult, and uncomfortable—history about our shared human experience. We also teach in a beautifully diverse community and need our team to work together to be prepared to do that as well.”

Gov. Stitt said he was proud of the school board and disappointed in the two members who voted no.

“It’s pretty cut and dry for most Oklahomans: school districts that violate state law should be held accountable,” he said.

Teachers: are you concerned about the effect this law will have on classroom discussions about race and racism? How about your ability to teach history?

I’d like to talk to you for a future story. Please reach out via email or DM.

— Jennifer Palmer

Recommended Reading

  • Political donations by the co-founders of Epic Charter Schools continued right up until their arrest. The men gave $375,000 to a federal political action committee in June. [NonDoc]
  • Oklahoma schools require students as young as kindergarten to complete a “biological sex affidavit” to compete in school sports following a law signed earlier this year. [NBC News]
  • After punishments handed down to school districts over HB1775, questions remain about what happens next. [The Frontier]

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