The Oklahoma State Board of Education rejected requests Thursday morning to revisit the accreditation status of two districts it had penalized over allegations that they violated a state law that limits classroom discussion on race and gender.
Despite public pleas from parents and officials with both Tulsa Public Schools and Mustang Public Schools, the board voted 3-2 without discussion to deny identical motions from Carlisha Williams Bradley to reconsider the 2022-23 accreditation status of the two districts.
TPS and Mustang were each accredited with a warning in July due to allegations that they had violated House Bill 1775, which prohibits teaching that one race or sex is inherently superior to another, causing a student to feel guilty or uncomfortable because of their race or gender, or teaching that anyone is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.
“I don’t want the teachers to be scared to teach my daughter about being a good person,” Tulsa parent Ashley Daly said. “I want them to be able to teach ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ so that we can all hold this complicated history that we have and move forward together as a community.
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“It’s not a community if we can’t all hear each other out, hold each other’s truths and try to move forward together.”
Board members Brian Bobek, Sarah Lepak and Trent Smith voted no on both motions to reconsider, while Estela Hernandez and Jennifer Monies were absent.
In addition to Williams Bradley, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister voted to reconsider the districts’ accreditation status.
Under the law and administrative rules previously approved by the State Board of Education, a violation of HB 1775 is considered a deficiency with respect to accreditation. However, the board voted 4-2 to accredit both TPS and Mustang Public Schools with a warning instead of just a deficiency due to violations of HB 1775, prompting reconsideration requests from the two districts.
TPS was penalized for an August 2021 professional development session on implicit bias for teachers — not students — offered through a third-party vendor.
Although the audio was a verbatim reading of the session’s visual slides, in both a letter dated July 7 and during his remarks at the July 28 Oklahoma State Board of Education meeting, attorney Brad Clark said that while the slides from the 18-minute professional development session did not show a violation of the law, audio from the event indicated that the training broke the spirit of HB 1775, if not the letter.
However, citing a limited-access agreement with the vendor, Clark’s office did not provide the audio to the State Board of Education in July when the board made its accreditation decision.
After Thursday’s meeting, Tulsa Superintendent Deborah Gist said that while she was not happy with the board’s refusal to reconsider the accreditation vote, the district will continue to offer professional development that includes content to “assist teachers to function effectively with all students in a culturally diverse way.”
“I’m not shocked, but I’m deeply disappointed,” she said. “We asked respectfully for them to reconsider — not to change their decision — just the chance to give them the facts.
“I don’t know about the specifics in Mustang’s case, but in Tulsa’s case, we did not violate the law. And they don’t want to know about that; they don’t want to see the evidence.”
Mustang self-reported an incident involving a voluntary activity in a single middle school classroom in January. Its accreditation was downgraded after Williams Bradley pointed out that several of her colleagues had singled out TPS for an HB 1775 violation but not the suburban Oklahoma City district.
Via a spokesman, Mustang Superintendent Charles Bradley said after the meeting that while he was also disheartened by the decision, his district would respect the state board’s authority and attempt to work with both the state board and legislators to develop due process policies for districts accused of violating the law or its administrative rules.
“We are concerned with the message this sends regarding due process,” he said. “At the July meeting of this board, 30 minutes was afforded to the discussion of the facts and issues surrounding another school in this situation, yet only seven minutes was allowed for discussion of Mustang in which it was made abundantly clear that the facts surrounding our complaint were unknown and evidently irrelevant.”