OKCPS Board member granted restraining order regarding possible disciplinary action for tweets

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OKLAHOMA CITY – Even though summer is underway, things are heating up at Oklahoma City Public Schools recently resulting in a temporary restraining order filed by a board member against three school system officials.

On Monday morning, board member and attorney Charles Henry filed an application for the temporary restraining order to prevent an agenda item on Monday night’s board meeting from happening, that item to discuss in executive session a possible disciplinary against him. The petition was specifically filed against board chair Paula Lewis, superintendent Sean McDaniel, and OKCPS general counsel Jessica Sherill. In the petition, Henry alleged the agenda item would “publicly humiliate” in an effort to restrict his free speech.

The petition and the proposed possible disciplinary action come in response to comments made on Henry’s Twitter account which has since been deleted.  As Classen SAS gets ready to move into the Northeast High School building, many believe the name of the school should be changed to include both names. Henry tweeted that he believes the name should be changed Northeast Classen SAS, as well as some other tweets that criticized the school board.

Some parents took offense to his comments, one tweeting Henry’s words were “creating a racially charged atmosphere that may bring harm to the children.” That person also tweeted, “Imagine a racially motivated school shooting of the new kids from @ClassenSASOKC as a result of @henryokcpsboard dangerous rhetoric … justified by some nut-job because Henry was a board member of @OKCPS.”

In response, Henry allegedly tweeted there was talk of a possible school shooting that was being investigated by police.  School officials said in court that an investigation was launched after they heard two complaints about Henry’s Twitter comments.

“The school board’s position was, is that you should have made this to their tip line, in other words, that you should have made it to a tip line,” said Ronald Kelly, Henry’s attorney. “I think I would feel a lot more safer reporting something to the police department than to a tip line.”

On Monday afternoon, arguments on both sides of the temporary restraining order in Judge Richard Ogden’s courtroom. Sherill testified that Henry should have brought any concern regarding a school shooting to the school board, and should not have tweeted about it.

Henry also alleged in court he was not afforded this due process, saying he was not allowed his side of the conversation during the private conversation beginning step. Per Oklahoma State School Board Association policy B-11, if a member violates policy, the board can respond starting with a private conversation between the offending member and board chair or other member. That can lead to a discussion in executive session between the offending member and the full board, and finally, result in censure of the offending member if two-thirds of the board agree.

The judge agreed that considering the tension between the OSSBA policy, and the Oklahoma State Constitution (Article II, Section 22 preserving liberty of speech and press), Henry should be given more time to prepare before it’s addressed again. Judge Ogden granted the 10-day temporary restraining order.

In a statement, a school board spokesperson said, “Because the Executive Session agenda item in question could still be considered by our Board of Education for discussion at some point in the future, OKCPS cannot comment at this time. We look forward to working through the legal process to find a timely resolution.”

Henry said he plans to file for a full injunction to prevent a disciplinary action on this issue from ever being considered.

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