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Contentious State Board of Education meeting results in warnings to school districts for violating House Bill 1775 law

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The Oklahoma State Board of Education meets on July 28, 2022.

A raucous State Board of Education meeting saw emotions bubble up over politics, race and personal accusations amid accreditation of state schools.

TRANSCRIPT

Capitol Insider sponsored by the Oklahoma State Medical Association, physician members who devote more than 11 years of higher education and 10,000 clinical hours in study to provide care for all Oklahomans. More at okmed.org.

Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider - taking you inside politics, policy and government in Oklahoma. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. On Thursday, the State Board of Education approved accreditation for Oklahoma schools but gave 11 districts accreditation with warning. Shawn, the meeting was loud, emotional, and contentious and much of the controversy concerned Tulsa Public Schools and a complaint from a Tulsa high school teacher about training she received that she claimed violated House Bill 1775. Does House Bill 1775 prohibit certain discussion of race in teacher training?

Shawn Ashley: Well, if someone looks at the statute House Bill 1775 created, they probably would not draw that conclusion. The statute says no teacher, administrator or other employee of a school district shall require or make part of a course certain discussions about race.

Dick Pryor: So, in plain language, the bill prohibits the outlined discussion in courses. So how does mentioning those topics in teacher development training violate the law?

Shawn Ashley: That's where the State Department of Education's administrative rules come into play. Now, we've talked before about administrative rules and how agencies, boards and commissions like the State Board of Education write and adopt administrative rules to specify how a particular bill will be implemented. In its administrative rules implementing House Bill 1775, the State Board of Education defined the term “course” to mean any forum where instruction or activities tied to the instruction are provided, including courses, training, seminars, professional development, lectures, sessions, coaching, tutoring, or any other class. So, it includes not just the teaching of students, but the training of teachers who will teach the students.

Dick Pryor: That's an interpretation of the law. Lawmakers could have defined what they meant by the word course in the law and how far they wanted 1775 to go, but they did not. Is that something you think they may reconsider?

Shawn Ashley: Yes, it is. Senator David Bullard, the Senate author of House Bill 1775, expressed concern that the rule was not inclusive enough when the rules were discussed by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules in May. Bullard said he wanted to be sure that non-mandatory school activities such as band and agriculture programs, among others, were covered. But other lawmakers, including Senator Julie Daniels and Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, said that definition should be expanded first in statute before it is expanded in the administrative rules. So, I expect we'll be seeing legislation on that in 2023.

Dick Pryor: Shawn, another district, Mustang, also received a warning for allegedly violating 1775 in a class student team building exercise. It's interesting, though, that most of the state school board members seemed unaware of that violation.

Shawn Ashley: Yes, it was. While arguing against placing Tulsa on accreditation with warning that Carlisha Williams Bradley noted Mustang also had a House Bill 1775 violation but was set to receive its accreditation only with a deficiency, which is not as severe as an accreditation with warning. Several board members said they were unaware Mustang had a violation, although it was noted on the spreadsheet provided to the members of the board for Mustang, just like it was for Tulsa. Board member Jennifer Monies, one of those who acknowledged she was unaware of Mustang's violation, made the motion to accredit the Mustang district with a warning - indicating she believed the board needed to be consistent in how it handled those matters. And that motion was adopted.

Dick Pryor: What happens to schools and districts with deficiencies and warnings?

Shawn Ashley: School districts are required to correct the deficiencies and are subject to increased monitoring and compliance. It's kind of like progressive punishment, but if a district fails to address or refuses to address its deficiencies, the state board can eventually take over that district and we've seen examples of that over time.

Dick Pryor: Thanks, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: If you have questions, e-mail them to news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @QuorumCallShawn. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.

Dick Pryor has more than 25 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November, 2016.
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