OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma educators around the state were shocked to learn that the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame was removed from public display, following a call from State Superintendent Ryan Walters for the portraits to be taken down.

The Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame was constituted and incorporated in 1984 as a nonprofit organization to “recognize and to honor those professionals who have exemplified a commitment to quality education while demonstrating exceptional abilities in realizing the ideals of leadership, service, and research through their contribution to Oklahoma education”, according to state records.

Each year, inductees are invited to join the ranks from a variety of educational endeavors, including common education, higher education and career technology.

“It’s just an honor to be in that public space for educators [and] it’s unbelievable [that] it’s controversial,” said Dr. Deena Fisher, a former dean/professor emeritus at Northwestern Oklahoma State University.

Fisher also serves as vice-president for the Hall of Fame and told KFOR the organization’s board first learned of the gallery’s removal from The Oklahoman.

“We want to think maybe he’s new at this job and doesn’t know about our long history and our organization.”

“It’s just utterly disrespectful to the people that have gone before him,” said Drew Cole, a Duncan teacher.

His father, Dr. Bill S. Cole was inducted into the Hall of Fame after decades of distinguished service in education.

“Dad was always such a proponent of every kid having access to every amount of education that they want [and] when you remove pictures like that you automatically remove accountability,” he added.

In a statement to KFOR, the state superintendent suggested the Hall of Fame was an ode to “bureaucrats and union leaders”, while parents and kids are the ones who should be featured on the wall.

“Bureaucrats and union leaders are not my focus. Parents and kids are the ones that deserve to be highlighted at SDE. It’s who we serve and this fake uproar over photographs is distracting from improving Oklahoma’s education system.”

“All the photographs will be sent to the local teachers’ unions. When my administration is over, the unions can use donor money and their lobbyists to take down photographs of students and parents and reinstall the photographs of administrators and bureaucrats.”

Ryan Walters

“We’re non-political [and] it’s been a shock,” said Fisher.

While Dr. Fisher said they were not initially contacted about the gallery’s removal, the State Department of Education contacted the Hall of Fame’s leadership Friday to come to a resolution.

“Our resolution would be to hang them back up,” she said.

“I don’t think this is a battle that any superintendent would want to call attention to as they start their administration, but he may have a good reason. I look forward to hearing the reasons,” she added.