Oklahoma school board downgrades Tulsa public schools for allegedly shaming whites in training

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The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted this week to downgrade the accreditation of Tulsa public schools after a teacher allegedly complained that the school district’s training materials ‘shame white people’ .

The board voted 4-2 to lower the status of Tulsa Public Schools to “accredited with warning” on Thursday after the state Department of Education determined that implicit bias training for teachers in August 2021 violated House Bill 1775. The law, which restricts discussions of race and gender in public schools, is widely seen as targeting critical race theory. The state investigation began after a complaint from a teacher who has not been publicly identified, according to Oklahoman.

The board also downgraded another district, Mustang Public Schools near Oklahoma City, to ‘accredited with warning’ after it self-declared a teacher violated House Bill 1775 by using an exercise that put students in a bad way. comfortable because of their race or gender.

The downgrades mark the first enforcement action under the law, which Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (R) signed in May 2021, Oklahoman reported. The four members who voted to downgrade the districts were nominated by Stitt.

The law does not explicitly mention critical race theory — an academic framework for examining how laws and policies perpetuate systemic racism — but prohibits teaching what it calls “discriminatory principles,” including that “an individual, because of race or gender, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, consciously or unconsciously.

The measure came amid Republican efforts to ban the teaching of systemic racism and oppression in schools following the nation’s 2020 racial reckoning, which opponents say leads to self-censorship and stigma. fear among teachers. The American Civil Liberties Union sued Oklahoma over the law in October, alleging it violated First and 14th Amendment rights for students and teachers.

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Representatives for the Tulsa and Mustang school districts did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Saturday. In a statement to Oklahoman, Tulsa Public Schools denied the training said people of a certain race are inherently racist, saying it “would never support such training,” but the system defended the need for implicit bias training.

“In Tulsa, we teach our children a specific — and sometimes painful, difficult and uncomfortable — story of our shared human experience,” the district told the newspaper. “We also teach in a beautifully diverse community and need our team to work together to be ready to do that well.”

Mustang Public Schools superintendent Charles Bradley said in a statement to News 9 that he was “shocked” by the board’s demotion, which he called a “brutal action.”

HB 1775 prohibits teaching that any individual “bears responsibility for actions done in the past by other members of the same race or sex.” It also prohibits any course material that would cause a student to feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or gender.”

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The complaint against Tulsa Public Schools stemmed from a 20-minute implicit bias training for teachers conducted by a third-party vendor last August. The administrative rules for HB 1775 extend the law’s prohibitions to teacher training.

The Tulsa training informed teachers that they need to be “aware of our own inherent biases, as well as historical biases against minorities,” the Oklahoman reported. In response, a teacher filed a lawsuit with the state alleging that the training materials “specifically shame white people for past offenses in history and state that all are implicitly biased in nature,” according to Public Radio Tulsa.

The outlet identified the teacher who filed the complaint as Amy Cook, who was investigated earlier this year for allegedly proselytizing in class and briefly ran for the Senate of the state. On her campaign website, she wrote that as a Tulsa public school teacher, she witnessed “spiritually damaging curricula, liberal brainwashing, and political indoctrination slipped into our schools.”

Brad Clark, the state attorney general Department of Education, announced at the June board meeting that its agency’s investigation of the complaint concluded that the district violated the law.

“It was a close call, but we believe the spirit of this formation, or its design, was at odds with the 1775 House Bill,” Clark said in June.

Although Clark recommended that the district be downgraded one level to “accredited with impairment”, board member Brian Bobek made a motion at Thursday’s meeting to downgrade it one step further, to ” accredited with warning”. This level indicates that the district has a problem that “seriously impairs the quality of the school’s educational program,” according to state accreditation standards.

Bobek argued that anyone who took the training “is going to be potentially biased” and called it a “serious” violation that deserved warning status.

Board member Estela Hernandez agreed, accusing the Tulsa District of deliberately flouting the law and arguing the additional level of demotion was necessary to “send a message.”

The state’s finding that the training violated the law was dismissed by board member Carlisha Williams Bradley, who said implicit bias “does not equate to inherent racism.”

“Maybe that’s why some of this content should be taught in schools, because I just don’t know that we all have a common understanding of definitions and language here,” she said. stated at the meeting.

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Williams Bradley and State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, who won a primary last month to be the Democratic nominee for governor, voted against downgrading the two districts. Hofmeister said she voted no because she supported the state agency’s recommendation to downgrade districts only one level.

The council’s vote came less than a month after Stitt called for a ‘special audit’ of the Tulsa District into its use of the coronavirus. relief funding and for allegedly teaching critical race theory, which the district denies.

Williams Bradley told Washington Post Saturday that the decision was an “obvious attack” on Tulsa Public Schools, which she noted is a majority minority district.

“It is appalling and terrifying that we have schools and educators who can be penalized for having conversations about real facts, history and the implicit biases we all have based on differences in our lived experiences,” said she writes. in an email.

While the Tulsa complaint was about teacher training, the Mustang District complaint centered on a lesson for students, which was investigated internally and reported to the state, said Clark.

The exercise, which was taught by a single teacher, asked students to answer questions about whether they had experienced or perpetrated discrimination or bullying, according to News 9. The district determined that the lesson violated the law because it made students feel uncomfortable because of their race or gender.

The state also recommended that Mustang be downgraded one level to ‘accredited with impairment’, but board member Jennifer Monies argued the panel should be ‘consistent with how we enforce’. HB 1775 and avoid the appearance of “unfair targeting” of the Tulsa District.

The same four members then voted to downgrade Mustang Public Schools two tiers to “accredited with caveats.”

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