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More than 350 leaders call for Ryan Walters' removal following Nex Benedict's death

State Superintendent Ryan Walters presents his education budget proposal at his first meeting as superintendent, January 2023.
Beth Wallis
StateImpact Oklahoma
State Superintendent Ryan Walters presents his education budget proposal at his first meeting as superintendent, January 2023.

In the wake of Nex Benedict's death, scores of organizations have called on Oklahoma’s leaders to remove state Superintendent Ryan Walters from office.

In the letter penned to leaders of the Oklahoma Legislature and its education committees, more than 350 national, state and local organizations and individuals accuse Walters of pushing anti-LGBTQ+ policies leading up to Benedict's death. The organizations asking for Walters’ dismissal include the Trevor Project and the NAACP.

Benedict, a nonbinary 16-year-old Owasso High School student, died in February the day after a fight with three girls in a school bathroom. While police have said Benedict didn't die of trauma, the final autopsy report has not been released.

"The undersigned organizations call on the Oklahoma Legislature to immediately remove Ryan Walters from his position as Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction and to begin an investigation into the Oklahoma Department of Education to determine what actions and policies have led to a culture where rampant harassment of 2SLGBTQI+ students has been allowed to go unchecked," the letter reads.

The letter specifically cites him introducing an emergency rule preventing students from changing their documented gender and pushing for the termination of a Western Heights teacher who performs drag outside of teaching.

The letter also points to Walters appointing anti-LGBTQ activist Chaya Raichik to the state's library media advisory committee. Last year, Raichik posted an out-of-context social media video of a Union Public Schools librarian that was shared by Walters, which was followed by almost a full week of bomb threats to the district.

"In the weeks following Nex’s death, numerous youths have come forward to detail the rampant harassment of Oklahoma’s 2SLGBTQI+ students by peers, teachers, and administrators," the letter reads. "We are outraged that a climate of hate and bigotry has been not only allowed to thrive, but encouraged by the person who is responsible for education in the state of Oklahoma."

In response to the letter, Walters accused signees of exploiting Benedict’s death. He said he will “not back down to the woke mob.”

"This is a standard tactic of the radical left, and they will stop at nothing to destroy the country and our state," Walters' response reads.

Walters' response to the letter is similar to a video message he put out earlier this week, in which he accused "radical left-wing groups" and media outlets of lying about Benedict's death to go after him and other conservatives.

In the video and at the state school board meeting three days prior, Walters offered his condolences in reference to the death.

Copyright 2024 Public Radio Tulsa. To see more, visit Public Radio Tulsa.

Max Bryan is a news anchor and reporter for KWGS.
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