September 27, 2021

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Board of Education acts on HB 1775, Western Heights

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The Oklahoma State Board of Education met Monday, July 12, 2021, and members approved emergency rules for implementing HB 1775. (Megan Prather)

The State Board of Education approved emergency rules today regarding the implementation of House Bill 1775, which bans the teaching of certain concepts about race and gender in Oklahoma public schools. The approved rules include a requirement for school districts to develop a process for the public to file complaints regarding violations of the provision.

Board members also took action to modify the probation status of Western Heights Public Schools’ accreditation during today’s meeting. The state board will take over governance of the district for the next year.

Board member Carlisha Bradley cast the only “No” vote on implementing the emergency rules surrounding HB 1775.

“With this legislation, with these rules, we’re robbing students of the opportunity to have a high-quality education, to think critically about the world around us and to build a more just society,” Bradley said during the meeting. “While I’m not a member of the Legislature — because if I was I would have voted ‘No’ on HB 1775 — I’m currently a member of this board, and I can not in good faith or conscious vote ‘Yes’ on these rules or support this legislation.”

In May, Gov. Kevin Stitt signed HB 1775, which has been called a ban on critical race theory by critics and some supporters. The bill has been controversial among legislators and the public, as it prohibits public school teachers in the state from teaching that “any individual, by virtue of his or her race of sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously” or that “meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race.”

Last week, author of HB 1775, Sen. David Bullard (R-Durant), was joined by 17 Republican senators in releasing a statement calling on State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister to fully implement HB 1775 at today’s meeting.

The emergency rules adopted (embedded below) include requiring public school districts to develop a process for parents, students, teachers, school staff and the public to file complaints for alleged violations. The rules require school districts to investigate all legally sufficient complaints.

“I do want to make clear (that) these are emergency rules. That means they’re temporary,” Hofmeister said during the meeting. “I hope that we can move with greater clarity, understanding that this was not a transparent process by the very nature of swift emergency rules as school is about to start. Weighing that, I do believe there is a need for rules quickly. Rule-making or ‘rule promulgation season’ begins in the fall, and that will be open and transparent.”

‘What type of history are we teaching if we’re not teaching the actual truth?’

Oklahoma City resident Mary Lippert spoke during the public comment section of today’s meeting in support of HB 1775, urging the state board to approve the emergency rules for its implementation ahead of the upcoming school year.

Lippert’s comments affirmed Godwin’s law by referencing Nazis, and she warned that HB 1775 might help protect society from grave consequences.

“Again and again,” Lippert said, “we’ve learned from history stories of nations turning one people group against another as in China (with) Mao’s cultural revolution, Cambodia (with) the Khmer Rouge killing fields and more recently, Rwanda’s genocide of the Tutsis. Most (were) accomplished through school education of children and young adults.”

Millwood Public Schools student Sapphira Lloyd spoke against HB 1775 during the public comment section of the meeting.

“I feel as though we should be able to discuss critical topics of history, no matter how ugly they may be, and teach kids how to handle having hard conversations,” Lloyd said. “When we speak about the Holocaust, nobody is pointing at the German kid and telling him he’s a bad person because of Hitler’s actions, so why is that an excuse for slavery? Nobody is telling children that they are bad people because Christopher Columbus, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were.”

Lloyd, who is Black, told board members that she had her first experience with racism at age 8.

“I’m a human being, and I simply want to be looked at as a human being, and we should teach every child that no matter what you look like, you’re still a human being at the end of the day,” Lloyd said. “However, we should also teach the truth as well. What type of history are we teaching if we’re not teaching the actual truth?”

Oklahoma Education Association President Katherine Bishop released a statement following the board’s vote.

“The Oklahoma Education Association is pleased the State Board of Education affirmed in their emergency rule decision today the importance of teaching history, social studies, English language arts, biology or any other subject matter area consistent with the Oklahoma Academic Standards,” Bishop wrote in her statement. “We encourage the involvement of education professionals in the full rule-making process moving forward.”

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Board takes action on Western Heights Schools

Following the executive session of today’s meeting, the state board also took action to amend the conditions of Western Heights Public Schools’ probation status.

FROM JUNE 28

Western Heights Schools

‘A waste of time’: Western Heights community frustrated by lack of board action by Megan Prather

Legal counsel Brad Clark recommended that board members approve a motion to amend the conditions of the district’s probation to include full state intervention for one year, to be reviewed every 90 days, with the option to engage with law enforcement as necessary to effectuate the intervention.

Western Heights Superintendent Mannix Barnes, who had his educator certificate suspended by the state board in June, and the district’s attorney, Jerry Colclazier, were not in attendance of today’s meeting.

At their meeting in June, in addition to suspending Barnes’ license, the board approved a motion to notify the Western Heights Board of Education that the district might face state intervention and/or annexation and the loss of accreditation if the local school board failed to suspend Barnes from his position and implement the corrective actions established at the state board’s March 25 meeting.

Barnes has not yet been suspended by the Western Heights Board of Education.

The state board began examining Western Heights’ accreditation after expressing “utmost concern” about operations at the district during a March meeting and placed the district’s accreditation status on probation at an April meeting. Concerns cited by the state board include:

  • failure to provide in-person instruction since March 2020;
  • a decision in spring 2020 not to provide nutritional services to students;
  • an audit report alleging violations of state law, including the use of 2018 bond proceeds meant for contracting and repairing facilities to pay off debt instead;
  • a board member consuming alcohol during a public meeting;
  • a 23 percent drop in student enrollment, from 3,365 to 2,597 in the past year, and a loss of more than 100 staff members in the past two years;
  • disharmony in the school environment and community.

The Western Heights Board of Education will meet tonight at 7 p.m., where the suspension of Barnes is only on the agenda under the public comment section of the meeting.

Teachers’ Retirement System hires new executive director

On Monday, the board of trustees for the Teachers’ Retirement System released a statement announcing selection of the agency’s general counsel Sarah Green as its new executive director.

Sarah Green
Sarah Green was announced as the new director of the Teachers’ Retirement System of Oklahoma on Monday, July 12, 2021. (Provided)

TRS is the state’s largest public pension program and was established by the legislature in 1943. The agency has more than 184,000 members, has a current value of $21.5 billion and pays out more than $105 million in benefits to retirees each month.

Green will replace former executive director Tom Spencer, who retired in June.

“A national search made it clear that the right person to lead this agency was already here,” TRS board of trustees chairman Brandon Meyer said. “Sarah understands our agency, the needs of our members and the opportunities that lie ahead. She is not only authentic but she is authentically Oklahoman. We appreciate Tom Spencer’s dedicated service to our agency, and we look forward to seeing it continue to flourish under Sarah’s leadership.”

Green is a former partner at Bullard & Associates law firm and is a member of the National Association of Public Pension Attorneys and the Oklahoma Medical Reserve Corps.

“Having grown up in a family of educators and having assisted my own mother, an educator who served our state for 30 years, through the retirement process, I understand the important role our agency plays in providing a secure retirement income for so many Oklahomans,” Green said in the press release. “I am honored to be selected as executive director and look forward to furthering the mission of the agency.”

Read the board’s emergency rules on HB 1775

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