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State Education Board delays Tulsa’s accreditation citing its DEI report

Supporters of State Superintendent of Public Education Ryan Walters lined up outside the Oliver Hodge Building before the State Board of Education meeting on Thursday in Oklahoma City.
Yasmeen Saadi
Oklahoma Watch
Supporters of State Superintendent of Public Education Ryan Walters lined up outside the Oliver Hodge Building before the State Board of Education meeting on Thursday in Oklahoma City.

The state’s largest public school district will have to wait until August for its annual accreditation review. The state Board of Education voted Thursday to delay a decision on the district’s status after the state’s schools chief raised concerns.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters said Tulsa Public Schools intentionally misled the department about funding spent on diversity, equity and inclusion programs. After the meeting, Walters said all possible actions remain on the table, including an unaccredited status. This would cause the school to shut down and lose funding and recognition from the state.

Tulsa Public Schools already received an accreditation warning last year, for a staff training on implicit bias that the board found toviolate House Bill 1775. The law restricts teachers and school staff from teaching eight specific concepts, including that one race or sex is superior to another and that any person should feel discomfort, guilt or anguish because of his or her race or sex.

Ryan Pieper, executive director of accreditation at Oklahoma State Department of Education, presented this year’s accreditation recommendations after the division reviewed each district. Accreditation is used to evaluate if schools meet standards set by the department.

There are five levels of accreditation, from accredited with no deficiencies to unaccredited. Pieper clarified that unless a school is unaccredited, it will receive full funding and can remain open.

In a two-hour public comment, several community members voiced their concerns for Tulsa Public Schools. Ashley Daly, a parent in the district, was brought to tears during her comment.

“I can’t believe you won’t just talk to us and help us,” Daly cried. “This is not how you treat parents.”

Walters described Tulsa Public Schools as “plagued with scandal” and said their poor performance represents how the district is run.

InApril, the board directed all districts to report any spending on diversity, equity and inclusion. On Thursday, the board voted to create more specific language about the programs included within these reports. Walters said Tulsa Public Schools was not transparent in their preliminary response.

“What we have seen is a district that has failed its students, they’ve failed the parents and they’ve failed the teachers there,” Walters said.

Responding to the state’s directive, Tulsa Superintendent Deborah Gist reported the district did not spend any funds on such programs, according to aletter sent to Walters. In the letter, Gist also expressed that the district’s definition of diversity, equity and inclusion differed from what Walters and the State Board of Education outlined.

“Equity is our district’s most closely-held core value,” Gist wrote. “Equity is about fairness and giving every student what they need, when they need it. It is simple to say, but challenging to achieve; each day, we rededicate ourselves to this worthy goal.”

Overall, 376 school districts were accredited with no deficiencies, 143 districts with one deficiency and 65 with multiple deficiencies.

Members of the public lined up in the hallways and outside the building for the meeting. Walters addressed the lack of space in the meeting room, but was not clear on how the board would improve the situation at future board meetings.

Oklahoma Watch, at oklahomawatch.org, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers public-policy issues facing the state.

Oklahoma Watch is a non-profit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues facing the state. Oklahoma Watch is non-partisan and strives to be balanced, fair, accurate and comprehensive. The reporting project collaborates on occasion with other news outlets. Topics of particular interest include poverty, education, health care, the young and the old, and the disadvantaged.
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