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State Superintendent Ryan Walters received Black Hole Award from FOI Oklahoma

State Superintendent Ryan Walters addresses media members after the December 2023 Board of Education meeting.
Beth Wallis
StateImpact Oklahoma
State Superintendent Ryan Walters addresses media members after the December 2023 Board of Education meeting.

Every year, the organization Freedom of Information Oklahoma awards those who promote access and awareness of open records and open government, but it also saves one award recognizing a lack of transparency — the Black Hole Award. This year’s Black Hole Award recipient is State Superintendent Ryan Walters.

The Black Hole Award acknowledges an individual or entity that has “most thwarted the free flow of information.” FOI Oklahoma said in a press release Walters has “done more to damage the First Amendment freedoms among educators and others than any other political leader in recent state history” and “the state education system is in a black hole based on his inept leadership.”

It notes a recent lawsuit filed by Edmond Public Schools against the administration for its efforts to ban two books from EPS high school libraries — “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini and “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls.

The State Department of Education has also come under fire for its long response times in fulfilling open records requests. StateImpact, for example, still has unfulfilled requests dating back to May 2023.

The group also recognized McCurtain County Gazette-News’ Bruce Willingham for the prestigious Ben Blackstock Award for his series of stories last year on comments from the county sheriff and commissioners about hanging Black people and killing Bruce Willingham and his journalist son, Chris Willingham. The stories garnered national attention.

Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond also received one of the honors. The Sunshine Award was given to Drummond for creating a public access position in his office. The position is intended to assist officials with Open Meeting Act and Open Records Act compliance.

Upon taking office, Drummond also cleared the backlog of open records at the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office.

The awards are part of national Sunshine Week. A full list of FOI Oklahoma’s recipients can be found here.

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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