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Oklahoma education board declines re-hearing Tulsa and Mustang accreditation status

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Oklahoma's State Board of Education at the Aug. 25 meeting.

On Thursday, Oklahoma’s State Board of Education voted down an appeal request by Tulsa and Mustang Public Schools to make their cases as to why they shouldn’t be accredited with warning.

Community and school leaders had begged the state to reverse its decision. But ultimately, members appointed by Gov. Kevin Stitt voted not to give them a chance at an appeal of their accreditation penalty for violating Oklahoma’s law banning controversial topics, HB 1775.

Brian Bobek, Trent Smith and Sarah Lepak voted to deny an appeal from the two districts. State Superintendent and Democratic candidate for Governor Joy Hofmeister and member Carlisha Bradley voted to allow the two school districts to make their case. Members Jennifer Monies and Estela Hernandez were absent.

Public comment lasted about 40 minutes, about ten parents, educators and administrators from Tulsa and Mustang begged for a chance to be heard.

“We love these teachers,” Mustang Mayor Brian Grider said. “They’re not indoctrinators.”

And accusing them of being that has created confusion in both communities.

“The uproar resulting from the state board's decision in July is threatening to distract us from the important work we're doing in Tulsa,” Tulsa Public Schools Board President Stacey Woolley said. “I was surprised and taken aback at the state board's July decision.”

That’s led to a culture of fear.

“We are all fearful in education right now,” Mustang High School Principal Kathy Knowles said. “We are fearful to think that a teacher at another site who's just trying to teach an activity over empathy, who made a mistake, is in danger of losing his job, of losing his certification.”

Following the board’s decision to vote it down, Tulsa and Mustang superintendents Deborah Gist and Charles Bradley said they were perplexed and upset by the ruling.

“I'm disappointed, and a little bit dismayed over the apparent unwillingness to just listen to facts,” Bradley said. “All we were asking for… was the basic right of due process.”

This might not be the end of the issue. At the moment, TPS is considering all legal options, including action against the state board, Gist said.

“We're taking everything into consideration right now,” she told reporters. “I think we have to wait. The time and the resources that something like that takes, and the fact that we are all very short staffed, and we have to stay focused on our kids and their families and serving them.”

It’s unclear what could happen next. There is pending litigation against the state over House Bill 1775 and a spokesman for the ACLU told StateImpact that attorneys are adding facts surrounding the situations in Mustang and Tulsa to their briefs.

ACLU of Oklahoma spokesperson Cassidy Fallick wrote in an email the organization has received about a dozen reports related to HB 1775 so far this school year and asked concerned educators “to reach out to us regarding 1775 enforcement via our intake email intake@acluok.org.”

Robby Korth
Robby Korth joined StateImpact Oklahoma in October 2019, focusing on education reporting.