MUSTANG, Okla. (KFOR) – On Thursday, the State School Board voted to lower the accreditation status for both Mustang Public Schools and Tulsa Public Schools for violating a state law.
“Holding schools accountable and ensuring transparency in this process is incredibly important,” said Oklahoma Secretary of Education Ryan Walters.
The board voted 4-2 to dock both districts to “accreditation with warning” status. According to state standards, that means the schools “failed to meet one or more of the standards and the deficiency seriously detracts from the quality of the school’s educational program.”
This demotion was for the districts violating House Bill 1775, better known as the law that bans public schools from teaching concepts associated with critical race theory.
“It is infuriating to sit in this seat and witness what just happened,” said Carlisha Bradley, a board member.
Records show the Tulsa violation stems from a complaint made by a teacher who says training she underwent included “statements that specifically shame white people for past offenses in history, and state that all are implicitly racially biased by nature.”
“It was related to professional development training for teachers by a vendor,” said State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. “There was an audio portion in one segment of a 20-minute presentation that actually crossed that line.”
Tulsa Public Schools sent KFOR the following statement regarding the outcome of Thursday’s meeting:
“In Tulsa, we are teaching our children an accurate – and at times painful, difficult, and uncomfortable – history about our shared human experience. We also teach in a beautifully diverse community and need our team to work together to be prepared to do that well.
To best do that and also to meet the state’s annual requirement that school districts offer a training about “race and ethnic education,” we provided a training that included the topic of implicit bias. In this training, it is clear there is no statement or sentiment pronounced that people are racist–due to their race or any other factor. We would never support such a training.
It is notable that Governor Stitt’s state board of education spent significant time today talking about the complaints of one teacher in our district (among the hundreds of accreditation deficiencies statewide) and no time on the catastrophic teacher shortage facing every district in our state.
We want Tulsa families to know:
We do not teach a law school academic body of work known as “critical race theory” in our elementary and secondary schools.
We are focused on your child’s educational success. That means every child in Tulsa.
We also want our families to know that despite the continued political drama and the worst possible conditions educators have ever faced in Oklahoma, we will stay focused on what matters most—our students.
Right now, we need to finish our summer camps and prepare for the start of school. “Lauren Partain Barber | Senior Manager of Communications Tulsa Public Schools
Meanwhile Mustang Public Schools are being punished for a classroom activity that took place in January 2022.
“This was something that was directly related to students, unlike TPS,” said Hofmeister.
Records say the lesson was meant to “show that each student has different experiences in life,” and talked about “how important it is to treat others with kindness and respect since people never really know what others are going through.”
However, the report says, “the activity made students feel uncomfortable by answering questions on if they had felt discriminated against, bullied or acted in that manner towards others.”
“Mustang Community reported this violation, and it was actually in a classroom, and they took care of that, but let the Department of Education know,” said Hofmeister. “We followed the law and made our recommendations, and the board went beyond that.”
Mustang Public Schools released the following statement Thursday:
“At the regular meeting of the State Board of Education held on Thursday, July 28, 2022, there was an action item included on the agenda for “Discussion and possible action on school district and school site accreditation recommendations for the 2022-23 school year -70 O.S. §§ 3-104, 3-104.3, 3- 104.4; OAC 210:35-3-201.” During the discussion on this item, Mustang Public Schools was mentioned as having had a verified HB1775 complaint. The Board proceeded to vote to place Mustang on Accreditation with Warning status based on this complaint.
“We were shocked to learn of this action,” Superintendent Charles Bradley said. “Looking at the agenda item as posted by the State Board, I do not know how a reasonable person could discern that this was coming. We were as surprised as anyone to hear our name mentioned today. After watching the replay of the State Board meeting it appears that at least one of the Board members, including one who made the motion to increase the penalty, was seemingly unaware that we were included on the agenda.”
In January 2022, a concern was brought to MPS Administration concerning a potential HB1775 violation. Just as with any concern presented, we promptly investigated and acted quickly to resolve the issue to the complainant’s satisfaction within a matter of days (see below). Despite MPS acting in good faith and fully resolving the issue detailed in the original concern, almost five months later, the complainant proceeded with the filing of an official HB1775 complaint with the State in June 2022. Upon that, MPS fully cooperated with the State and presented our investigative findings; the result was that the OSDE agreed with our conclusions that a verified violation of HB1775 had occurred and recommended to the State Board that Mustang be placed on Accreditation with Deficiency status. Despite the actions of the District, the State Board chose to vote to give MPS the status of Accredited with Warning. This was a more harsh penalty than what was recommended by the Oklahoma State Department of Education to, according to Board members, “to be consistent with the [earlier] vote on Tulsa Public Schools.”
“We are disheartened that this single outlier event has resulted in this harsh action,” Bradley said. “We acted expediently to resolve the complaint to the complainant’s satisfaction and yet no consideration was given by the State Board to our response to this event. With the Board action to increase the penalty above the recommendation, I seriously question the criteria for these Accreditation Categories. We are eager to work with the State Department to understand why this decision was made.”
The situation referenced in the original HB1775 complaint is addressed below:
Mustang Public Schools is committed to fostering an inclusive, respectful, and supportive learning environment where each person, students and staff, feels a sense of belonging and is treated with dignity and respect. In an attempt to foster a sense of belonging and empathy amongst students in a Leadership class, a voluntary “Cross the Line” activity was conducted by a teacher. The lesson/activity is not part of any curriculum adopted by MPS, nor is it a part of any curriculum approved or adopted by the State of Oklahoma.
Cross the Line activities originated from the anti-bullying space and were meant to help students to develop the understanding that everyone has something that they deal with and to empathize with and not bully or tease others. Unfortunately, the activity that was chosen in this instance was one that was adapted from and focused on topics not appropriate for our students. We eliminated the use of this lesson, effective immediately and moving forward, and regret that it was used at all.
As this is a personnel matter, the district is not able to provide further information at this time.
Please be assured that our focus will always remain on the academic and social well-being of our children. As always, we welcome any parent who has a concern about their student(s) to visit with school administrators. We appreciate the opportunity to serve our community, and again, please reach out to us with any questions or concerns.
In reference to HB1775, Mustang Public Schools does not condone actions contrary to the law; we have and will continue to train staff on how to meet the requirements of the law and will work to resolve any issues or concerns as they arise.”Mustang Public Schools
The districts’ accreditation statuses will last for one year.