Oklahoma State Board Upholds Decision to Downgrade Accreditation of 2 School Districts for Violating Race and Gender Education Act

The Oklahoma State Board of Education reaffirmed a 4-2 vote on July 28 designating the Tulsa Public Schools and Mustang Public Schools districts as « accredited with disclaimer. »

The reduction means districts are two tiers away from losing accreditation altogether.

“We are disappointed that the Oklahoma State Board of Education has decided – without any discussion – not to even consider the Tulsa Public Schools’ request to re-evaluate the blatant and baseless action it took over our district’s credentialing status in July, » said Tulsa Superintendent Deborah. Gist said in a written statement after the vote.

The law at the heart of the matter is House Bill 1775, which was passed and signed by Governor Kevin Stitt in May 2021.

It prohibits, in part, teachers and other staff from teaching classes that indicate that one race or sex is inherently superior to another. It also prohibits teaching the idea that a person of a specific race or sex « bears responsibility for acts committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex », according to the text of the bill.

Oklahoma’s bill does not mention « critical race theory, » but it emerged amid a contentious debate raging in many school districts about how the topics of inequality and racism should be taught in American schools.

The alleged violations

Tulsa’s demotion was in response to a complaint filed by a teacher who claimed she was required to watch training videos that « specifically shame white people for past offenses in history and state that all are implicitly biased by nature ».

That charge was challenged Thursday when the school district said the training session in question dealt with the subject of implied bias and did not indicate that white people are inherently racist. “The law does not prohibit the concept of implied bias,” Gist said at the meeting.

In the case of Mustang Public Schools, a teacher conducted a « crossing the line » activity in January with the goal of « fostering a sense of belonging and empathy among students in a leadership class, » said the district in a statement last month.

“Cross the Line activities grew out of the anti-bullying space and aimed to help students develop the understanding that everyone has something to deal with and to empathize and not bully or tease others. others, » the district said. « Unfortunately, the activity that was chosen in this case was an adapted activity and focused on topics that were not suitable for our students. »

The district responded by eliminating the activity immediately, he said.

On Thursday, Superintendent Charles Bradley told the state school board that the demotion decision was uninformed because the district had handled the issue locally appropriately to « everybody’s satisfaction. »

« This was an isolated event by a teacher and quickly resolved, » Bradley said. « Due process will allow this board to review the facts and make an informed decision that certification with caution is not warranted in this situation. »

The Mustang School District is based in Oklahoma City.

Several people representing the Mustang and Tulsa school districts implored the state board to reconsider its decision.

“We are afraid to think that a teacher from another site, who was just trying to teach an activity on empathy, who made a mistake, risks losing his job, losing his certification, contributing to this Mustang Public Schools losing their accreditation, » said Mustang High School principal Kathy Knowles. « That’s scary. »

In October 2021, a group of students and educators filed a lawsuit challenging Oklahoma’s law that restricts teaching about race and gender, in what the American Civil Liberties Union called the first lawsuit. federal government to challenge such a statewide ban.

The lawsuit – backed by the ACLU, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Oklahoma State Conference of the NAACP and the American Indian Movement Indian Territory – sought to block enforcement of the law which, according to him, hinders freedom of expression and the education of comprehensive history through the framework of critical race theory.

CNN’s Justin Gamble contributed to this report.

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