NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – A group of teachers fired by Oklahoma City Public Schools for allegedly violating the district’s masking policy said they are firing back with legal action of their own.
A general counsel for a nonprofit association called Professional Oklahoma Educators had already filed a lawsuit to prevent the teachers from being fired. Now, it’s adding breach of contract and wrongful termination as well.
“In a statewide teacher shortage, Oklahoma City just terminated five excellent educators for complying with state law,” said General Counsel Blake Sonne for POE, representing five of the six OKCPS teachers terminated unanimously by the OKCPS school board Wednesday for allegedly refusing to comply with the district’s mask mandate.
“Their district was intentionally violating existing state law and they were not complicit in that and they stood up for that and this is what’s happened to them,” he said.
All of this stemmed from Senate Bill 658, which went into effect in July. Lawmakers said school districts could not make wearing masks mandatory for students and teachers.
“While Senate Bill 658 prohibits school boards from mandating the wearing of masks, the law does not prohibit the Superintendent and district administration from requiring the wearing of masks by our students, staff, and visitors,” a letter from Superintendent Dr. Sean McDaniel back in August read.
“McDaniel, therefore, justified his actions with spurious legal arguments and semantic word games,” said Sonne.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit challenging the law is now on it’s way to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. In the meantime, an Oklahoma County Judge gave OKCPS the green light to enforce masks for staff.
“We indicated to Oklahoma City that our five teachers would comply with the mask mandate, respect the court’s decision, while the case was being appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court,” the general counsel said. “Our efforts in reaching out to the district were rejected and, in fact, Superintendent McDaniel issued an amended recommendation to terminate their employment including an allegation that each of those teachers had committed acts of moral turpitude – a label usually reserved for criminal or fraudulent acts.”
KFOR reached out to the district, asking specifically about the teachers’ claims. So far, no word.
The district did however send us this statement Wednesday night.
“On August 26, 2021, six OKCPS educators were notified of the Superintendent’s recommendation for termination to the Board of Education following their refusal to comply with our mask requirement regulation. On September 24, 2021, the Court denied a request filed on behalf of the teachers and ruled that OKCPS can continue to require our staff to wear face coverings. Today, the Board of Education conducted due process hearings for the six OKCPS educators. Since these employees continue to refuse to follow a reasonable directive over a law that is unsettled, OKCPS board members voted unanimously to move forward with termination of these six teachers.”OKLAHOMA CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
In the same statement, the district also said this:
“OKCPS families could choose to opt students out of this requirement for medical, religious or personal reasons, and to date only 171 students have chosen to do so. That’s less than half of one percent of our student population. All district staff also had the opportunity to request a medical accommodation, if needed, and only 12 of our nearly 5,000 employees have chosen to do so.”OKLAHOMA CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
In the end, the terminated teachers said they have no regrets.
“I think they’re deeply, deeply hurt and deeply saddened that Oklahoma City voted 6-0 to terminate their jobs,” said Sonne.