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Oklahoma Board of Education approves final rule on student pronoun changes, suspends teaching certificates

Beth Wallis
/
StateImpact Oklahoma
State Superintendent Ryan Walters at the March 23, 2023 State Board of Education Meeting.

Thursday’s State Board of Education meeting saw the passage of a permanent rule change on student gender designations, the suspension of several educators’ teaching certificates and the appearance of a controversial conservative media figure.

The board approved a rule prohibiting school districts from changing students’ gender designations on prior school records without its approval. That comes despite a lawsuit over the issue that has garnered national attention.

Even if a student gets a court order to legally change their gender, the rule says they must get approval from the board. It applies only to prior student records. The permanent rule was approved by the board unanimously.

State Superintendent Ryan Walters told the board the rule allows schools to “focus on academics and to stop this left-wing nonsense.”

“I’ve heard this from folks of all political backgrounds, that we do not want these transgender games going on in our school,” Walters said. “It’s a very clear rule. It’s something that, unfortunately, is necessary because of what the left has pushed into our schools.”

The rule has already been in effect as an emergency since October. It was made in response to a court order authorizing a student from Moore Public Schools to legally change their gender. That student and another from Cushing Public Schools petitioned the board for the changes, and both were denied.

The Moore student filed suit in December against the board, which is now in federal court.

Teaching certificates reviewed

The board also voted to take steps toward suspending the teaching certifications of four teachers, pending individual hearings.

Some of the teachers have been in headlines recently, like Woodward Middle School P.E. teacher Benjamin Hall, who was arrested earlier this month and charged with seven counts of lewd acts on a child over the last decade. Braggs Middle School teacher James Miller was also arrested earlier this month on suspicion of rape and sexual battery.

The board also voted to suspend the certificates of two Glenpool Public Schools teachers for breach of contract, and to refer the pending revocations of eight other teachers to a hearing officer.

It also voted to schedule a hearing for former Norman teacher Summer Boismier, who shared a QR code with her students for the Brooklyn Public Library’s Books Unbanned project. After calling for her certification to be revoked, Walters found himself at the center of a defamation lawsuit.

Boismier’s revocation hearing in front of the board is scheduled for Match 28, during its regularly scheduled meeting.

LibsofTikTok’s Chaya Raichik given a forum

Walters featured a video during the meeting of conservative media personality Chaya Raichik, who he recently appointed to a new school library advisory committee. Raichik responded to blowback from the appointment.

“There’s a lot of people who are very upset that kids in schools will not have access to porn anymore, and I think that’s very telling,” Raichik said without providing evidence for her claims. “We’re going to remove porn from the schools, and you can’t stop us.”

Her appointment has been met with hostility, even from members of his own party. Rep. Mark McBride (R-Moore) told the AP Tuesday that he doesn’t see how Raichik is qualified for the appointment.

“I don’t see any need to have a 28-year-old realtor from New York that has no children appointed to this position when there are extremely qualified parents, teachers and librarians in Oklahoma,” McBride said.

Last summer, Raichik shared an altered video from a Tulsa Union Public Schools elementary librarian, in which the librarian said she was not finished pushing her “woke agenda.” The video shared by the account left out the caption saying her “radical liberal agenda” was “teaching kids to love books and be kind.”

Walters shared the altered video on his X (formerly Twitter) account, and in the weeks that followed, the district received a slew of bomb threats. The video remains on his page.

Mid-Del Superintendent fires back against Walters’ claims of misspending

During public comments, Mid-Del Public Schools Superintendent Rick Cobb alleged Walters had made false statements about the district’s spending at a Senate Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee meeting on Jan. 11. He said the remarks “disrespected the hardworking people in Mid-Del,” and told Walters, “you’ve also disrespected me.”

Walters claimed at the subcommittee meeting that Mid-Del had misspent half a million dollars in federal funding on lawn care.

Cobb said the district had done its due diligence to make sure the money was used on allowable expenditures. He said those funds could be used for many different purposes, such as “activities necessary to maintain the operation of and continuity of services” and “continuing to employ existing staff.”

“We have included our contracts with the companies that manage our groundskeeping,” Cobb said at the meeting. “Every year in which we have done so, this has been allowable. In fact, from the current fiscal year, your staff has approved this in our ESSER [federal funding] application.”

Cobb admonished Walters for the way he found out about the claims at the Senate meeting and directed him to contact the district first when the department has questions. He cited his 16 years of experience working with federal programs, saying they [the district] “don’t just give blanket approval for funding requests.”

That is likely in reference to an investigation by The Frontier and Oklahoma Watch that revealed Walters oversaw misspent federal pandemic funds with documented “blanket approval.”

“Words matter and facts matter,” Cobb said to Walters. “When you spread misinformation, you only deepen the teacher shortage and cause us to rely on emergency and uncertified teachers. No retraction, no correction completely undoes the damage. On behalf of my community, I implore you to do better and to be better.”

Beth reports on education topics for StateImpact Oklahoma.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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