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Critical Race Theory Debate, School District Takeover Dominate Oklahoma State Board Of Education Meeting

Oklahoma's State Board of Education met Monday to discuss rules around race, takeover Western Heights Public Schools.
Oklahoma's State Board of Education met Monday to discuss rules around race, takeover Western Heights Public Schools.

On Monday morning and into the afternoon, Oklahoma’s State Board of Education weighed a number of big topics in one of its last meetings before the start of the school year in August.

The board approved new rules around House Bill 1775, which dictates that students should not be made to feel uncomfortable based on their identity. The board also took over the administration of Western Heights Public Schools.

The board entertained more than 40 minutes of public comment. Most were from a predominantly white crowd calling on the state to ban critical race theory from the classroom.

House Bill 1775

HB 1775 and the rules the board passed Monday do not ban critical race theory. Instead, it specifically bans teaching any of the following:

  • One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.
  • An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.
  • An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex.
  • Members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex.
  • An individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex.
  • An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.
  • Any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.
  • 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.

Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, the bill’s co-author, said the board’s rules as passed are in compliance with the intent and spirit of the law.

“Overall, I’m pleased with the process and happy we got this on the books, so schools know what they’re going to be doing when they come back to class,” he said.

West said he does not want teachers to fear discussing difficult topics, and he hopes robust discussions continue in the state’s classrooms.

That echoes State Superintendent for Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. During the meeting, she said she wants teachers to continue to stick to state standards that include difficult topics like the Tulsa Race Massacre.

“We must teach the good, the bad, the ugly,” she said.

The rules set up a grievance procedure for parents or students to make complaints.

The rules are emergency rules. So, they must be re-approved through a lengthy process that will include public comment in the future.

Ultimately, a school district could be given an accreditation deficiency for not complying with the law.

Western Heights state takeover

About 80 schools were given accreditation with deficiencies Monday, and most of those were issues related to tornado drills or financial reporting, state education department officials said. Three schools were given accreditation with probation.

One of those districts was Western Heights.

Ultimately, the board of education voted to take over the district and appoint an interim superintendent. Now, all Western Heights matters will come before the state as it forms an improvement plan.

State Department of Education officials accuse Western Heights leaders of financial reporting violations, creating safety problems and a culture of administrative bullying that led to the loss of more than 100 employees and even more students over the course of two years.

Last month, the board of education suspended the license of superintendent Mannix Barnes and put the district on probation. But the local school board ignored that move, and gave Barnes a raise.

Now, the state board has voted to take over administration of the school, and members said law enforcement would become involved if district leaders refuse to step aside.

Robby Korth joined KOSU as its news director in November 2022.
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