OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR)- A “final warning” was sent to Oklahoma State Department of Education employees Thursday morning discouraging everyone from “leaking” internal information to the media.
The email says in part, “I have been made aware of internal documents being leaked to the press. This will stop so let this email serve as its final warning for anyone that has a disagreement on Superintendent Walters’ beliefs to fight the liberal woke culture seeping into our schools, liberal indoctrination in the classrooms, and pushing pornography in schools.”
An OSDE spokesperson, Matt Langston ends the email with a looming threat of immediate termination for any employee found guilty of leaking information.
The OSDE employee who shared the email with News 4 this morning asked that their name not be revealed.
However, Langston alluded on social media the emails served as a trap.
He referenced an article about the Tesla CEO, Elon Musk sending similar emails that were encoded with either one or two spaces between sentences, forming a binary signature that identified the leaker.
“A special thanks to [Reporter], [Blogger], [Reporter], and others in the Oklahoma liberal woke media squad. You were instrumental in today’s very successful effort in changing Oklahoma’s education system. You have my respect and thanks for making our jobs easier!,” Langston posted to Twitter Thursday afternoon.
News 4 was shown at least three different emails sent to OSDE employees.
“One big difference between private employers and public employers is that these employees work for the state of Oklahoma and they are public employees. The Open Meetings Act, the Open Records Act, the Whistleblower Act all cover what they’re doing. And also, since the State Department of Education deals with federal dollars, there’s a lot of federal laws that they are also obligated to obey,” said Senator Mary Boren, Norman-D.
Each one had spacing differences or very minor wording differnces such as one saying, “I’m” and another stating “I am.”
News 4 spoke with an Oklahoma City Employment attorney, Mark Hammons who said this is a clear violation of the Open Records Act, the Oklahoma Whistleblower Act, and the First Amendment.
“Apart from being unlawful. One of the fundamental principals of a democratic government is transparency, that people know what you’re doing, they know why you’re doing it. Government isn’t supposed to operate in secret,” said Hammons. “The guy hasn’t read even Oklahoma statutes on that. I think what he’s doing is opening himself up to a lawsuit. That’s honestly crazy. That’s bad government.”
Hammons said the email tells him Supt. Walters knows what he is doing and is not consistent with what his constituents desire.
“So he wants to keep it a secret,” he added. “I don’t care what his legal team says about that. It is a lawsuit I would take any day of the week. If they fire somebody for disseminating documents created by the Department of Education, I’ve done plenty of First Amendment cases and I would jump at the opportunity to sue over that.”
Aside from media outlets receiving the OSDE email Langston sent out, lawmakers also caught wind of it.
Oklahoma Representative Mark McBride, R-Moore, told KFOR he received multiple texts on Thursday regarding the email.
He said he received at least three different versions of it.
“It’s fear mongering. You know, basically, this is what it is. I mean, it’s sad that people have to work under that kind of tyranny. I mean, these are state employees. I feel bad for people that have to go to work feeling that their job is threatened. I don’t know what the number of people is currently that have quit, but evidently it’s a sizable number,” said Rep. McBride. “I’ve heard that there’s nobody in writing for federal grants currently. So that puts federal funds in jeopardy. And, you know, none of the information that I have gathered came from a whistleblower. None of it. I mean, as far as worked there. My information came from several different places.”
He said he’s not quite sure why there has been so much push and shove between lawmakers and Supt. Walters.
All McBride wants is to focus on Oklahoma children.
“That’s my job. That’s all I care about. And I don’t want to be on any TV show or anything. You know, It’s not what I want. I just want to take care of these things and focus,” stated McBride.
Sen. Boren told KFOR the email doesn’t reflect well on Supt. Walters.
“It’s Ryan Walters versus the state of Oklahoma and the people of Oklahoma and this antagonism that he keeps stirring up. He thinks he can win without that, without obeying the law. And in Oklahoma, even though we are very, very divided on some politics, at the end of the day, Oklahomans want to follow the law and they will expect him to follow the law too,” stated Sen. Boren.
Sen. Boren said there are various different routes legislators can take in an attempt to resolve the email issue from getting the State Attorney General involved to running an audit on the OSDE.
For those demanding Supt. Walters be impeached, she said the conversation needs to be had in person with state leaders.
Sen. Boren suggests anyone who received Thursday’s OSDE email to contact a lawyer as well, even if it’s not an employment attorney.
“They have legal rights under their contracts,” she said.
Sen. Boren said this has risen to a level of betrayal from the OSDE.
“It’s very discouraging and it’s a betrayal. It’s a betrayal by the State Department of Education, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. It’s a betrayal by him against the educators in Oklahoma who just want to obey the law. And he is trying to frame the law and frame his administrative rules to play gotcha so that he turns everybody into suspects and everybody is assumed to be a dragon that he’s trying to slay instead of law abiding citizens that are trying to serve the students of Oklahoma and so it just makes people feel very victimized and very hurt by the person that’s supposed to be there to help you succeed as an educator. It feels very, very scary and very threatening to have somebody like that in charge of public schools in Oklahoma,” explained Sen. Boren.
On top of concerned lawmakers, several people who showed up to the State Board of Education meeting on Thursday are frustrated by seeing the email.
“This is the United States of America. If we have a government entity that is threatening to fire people for sharing information that should be public information anyway, I think that it is very indicative of a serious problem,” said Erika Wright with the Oklahoma Rural Schools Coalition.
Thursday’s meeting room was packed and there was an overflow of dozens of people awaiting their turn for public comment.
“I’ve been coming to these for a long time and we don’t see many people come to these. So it’s sad to me that on one hand, it’s sad to me that people feel like this is their last hope to be able to come and speak their voices and speak their minds and ask the questions that they need to,” stated Wright.
Wright told KFOR as much as she wishes differently, she’s not shocked to see the email sent to staff members.
“This is the continual type of attitude that we’re seeing come out of Superintendent Walters’ office, particularly with Matt Langston,” Stated Wright.
She said accountability comes in many forms, but is calling for Supt. Walters to step down from office.
“If that means starting an impeachment proceeding so that we can get someone in this office that’s serious about taking care of our children, all children, then maybe that’s what we need to do,” added Wright.
Another onlooker at Thursday’s State Board of Education meeting was Sean Cummings.
“I came here because I’m an education advocate,” he stated.
Cummings signed up for public comment, but said Supt. Walters cut off public comment after an hour so he never got to speak.
He planned to address the email OSDE sent to staff.
“That place has more snitches in it than a federal prison, so all of us have people that send us information. That’s how we know. I wouldn’t even have known to come to Boismier’s hearing the other day if somebody hadn’t sent it to me from inside his office,” said Cummings. “That office is chaos.”
Cummings added he’d like to see Supt. Walters step down, but doesn’t see that happening any time soon.
News 4 asked OSDE spokesperson, Justin Holcomb if Supt. Walters would hold his usual press conference after the Board of Education meeting.
News 4 was initially told it’s not likely, but Holcomb would get back to us.
A few minutes later and Holcomb told KFOR Supt. Walters was “too busy” with executive sessions to talk.
After the Board of Education meeting ended, Holcomb proceeded to escort two print Journalists to a private room where Supt. Walters was caught on camera privately meeting with them.
Although News 4 didn’t directly hear from Supt. Walters or his department on Thursday, Langston publicly posted to social media, “Idea from Elon Musk + ChatGPT + Oklahoma liberal media (jumped on the memo like a hand grenade) = clearing out of woke sabotuers at OSDE. Baller move by Ryan Walters.”
News 4 was alerted Thursday evening of a second email sent out to OSDE staff members.
“Today, we discovered a significant breach of confidentiality involving leaked agency emails. We have already identified three individuals involved in the leak, and we are actively pursuing others connected to this incident. This breach seriously undermines our values and code of conduct. Leaking emails is an unacceptable method of information access and disclosure. We are requesting those involved to make a responsible decision by voluntarily resigning from their positions. By doing so, they can potentially minimize the consequences that may arise from the ongoing investigation and potential termination,” a part of the second email read.
The email contained odd spacing which could presumably be another “trap” to catch those “leaking” information to the press.
News 4 tweeted out the information to which Langston replied, “Appreciate Kaylee Olivas, we got what we needed! You keep doing whatever you need to do.”
Not only was Thursday’s threatening email a topic of discussion, but also a video Supt. Walters played during the meeting.
The video was over five minutes in length and depicted various clips of his interview with a national news outlet. The video appeared to be directed at teachers and the Oklahoma Education Association.
“Shame!,” yelled Wright as she left the meeting room after watching the video.
“That is terrifying,” someone else said.
The only individual from Oklahoma who appeared in the video is Supt. Walters.
“Oklahoma educators are exhausted from the constant barrage of attacks from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. He is supposed to be the leader of public education in the state, but consistently looks to manufacture division between educators and parents. It is important to respond to the video the Superintendent posted (and quickly removed) —which was creatively edited and intentionally misrepresented OEA members. Not a single speaker or portion of the video portrayed anyone from the state of Oklahoma. Oklahomans see this for what it is, a desperate attempt to raise a politician’s profile at the expense of our neighborhood schools. We want to build positive relationships and improve public education in Oklahoma, rather than having to continually defend hardworking educators after every board meeting by responding to inflammatory and dangerous accusations. It’s easy to engage in political theater. The difficult work is addressing the actual challenges our students face each day. Educators should not be vilified for attempting to advocate for their profession. OEA’s mission, for 134 years, has been to serve our students, our educators, and our communities. We will continue to do this work long after political opportunists move on to their next grift.”The Oklahoma Education Association
That video was posted to the State Department of Education’s website but has since been removed and posted to YouTube as “private.”
“As a parent, I’m tired and tired of this. Our children should be the focus of every person in this building. And I don’t feel like all children are the focus of everybody in this building. And so I will continue to come here every single month. I will not be deterred,” stated Wright.