Hopes to appeal decision, question if vote violated state’s Open Meetings Act.
The Oklahoma Eagle
The Oklahoma Eagle
The Mustang Public Schools top educator has asked the Oklahoma State Board of Education to revisit its decision to downgrade accreditation for their school district.
The OSBE’s 4-2 vote against the southwest Oklahoma City suburban district at its July 28 session, after it also voted 4-2 to downgrade Tulsa Public Schools to “Accreditation with Warning.”
Both the Mustang and Tulsa school districts were cited for violating Oklahoma House Bill 1775. The statute, signed into law in 2021, restricts how Oklahoma’s public school districts approach topics of race and sex and restricts the teaching of specific concepts that create discomfort or guilt, including that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another.”
The state board approved administrative rules in March for how to handle H.B. 1775. According to those rules, Clark recommended Tulsa and Mustang districts be “Accredited with Deficiency,” one step higher than “Accredited with Warning.” The board, however, took the more severe step at its July meeting.
In his Aug. 9 letter of protest to the state board, Mustang Superintendent Charles Bradley said, “This was a singular isolated incident by a single employee, out of over 1,600 employees, which has now led to severe consequences for an entire district of over 13,000 students.
“To say I was in shock would be an understatement.”
Brad Clark, general counsel for the Oklahoma State Department of Education, has asked Mustang to meet with OSDE officials to discuss their appeal and accreditation status. Bradley wrote he wants to argue the district’s case in front of the seven-member state board.
The Oklahoma Administrative Code requires this meeting with the accreditation section of the OSDE before a district or school site “is placed on warning or probation” and “will then present a recommendation to the State Board of Education.”
This meeting did not occur with either school district before the state board’s actions. It may be a basis for further consideration before the state board.
Mustang: the experience feels unreal
In an interview with the Oklahoma Eagle, Kirk Wilson, Mustang’s director of communications, said the district was surprised and characterized the experience as feeling “unreal.” Mustang is 62 percent white, with Hispanics the largest diverse population at 15.3 percent, followed by Native American and Asian (both at 4.8 percent) and African American (4.5 percent.)
He expressed bewilderment at how “one incident on one day in one classroom” could have such consequences. The incident that triggered the complaint occurred in a middle school during an elective leadership training program in January. According to Wilson, participation was not only optional, but the teacher forewarned students that anyone who felt uncomfortable during the process could withdraw from participation.
The Operation Respect Organization provided the teaching session, called
“Cross the Line.” The group states that the training module’s purpose is “a lesson to explore differences in people’s backgrounds and the experiences related to those backgrounds.”
Only seven of the 29 questions were race-related, according to Wilson.
Just as in the Tulsa case, only one complaint was made.
In the Mustang incident, it was a parent who protested, saying that his child felt discomfort with the lesson. Wilson said Bradley, the superintendent, met with the parent and concurred that the lesson was not part of the standard curriculum and “would not normally have happened.”
The teacher was told not to repeat the exercise.
But the Mustang parent, who filed the original complaint, has attacked Mustang for attempting to appeal the downgrade, according to a Fox25 news report.
“They want to backpedal, and act like nothing bad ever happened when in fact it did,” the father said in an interview with Fox. “They’ve even admitted it.”
The parent, who was unnamed, told Fox that he wants other parents to know the district was wrong.
A single complaint
Mustang’s school administration did not initially consider the incident a violation of H.B. 1775 and did not report it to OSDE.
“Just as with any concern presented, we promptly investigated and acted quickly to resolve the issue to the complainant’s satisfaction within a matter of days,” Mustang administrators noted in an Aug. 29 statement following the state board’s action.
The complainant, after five months, upon learning that MPS did not regard the matter as a violation of H.B. 1775, filed a written H.B. 1775 violation complaint on June 15, with OSDE. In a statement released on Aug. 1, MPS noted that they “fully cooperated with the State and presented our investigative findings; the result was that the OSDE agreed with our conclusions that a verified violation of HB1775 had occurred.”
It was only the day before the state board’s July 28 meeting that Mustang officials learned that the OSDE would recommend that the incident warranted ‘Accreditation with Deficiency’ action by the state board. And the Mustang’s superintendent said he was told no one from the district needed to attend the meeting, the same advice that had been given to Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist.
Just as in the Tulsa complaint by a white biology teacher from Memorial High School, the OSBE lacked critical evidence to support voting to downgrade the accreditation for both school districts.
Following the discussion on July 28 and debate on the OSBE’s consideration of the Tulsa accreditation, a board member inquired about other violations of H.B. 1775 by other districts.
When told that Mustang had also violated the law, the state board moved swiftly to impose the same punishment.
The sanctions that OSBE have levied without critical evidence seem to support statements in court filings challenging the constitutionality of H.B. 1775 by the ACLU and other parties. The initial filing in the lawsuit charged that Oklahoma legislators’ comments “expose HB 1775’s underlying motive included suppressing discussions of implicit bias and systemic racism, particularly against Black people.”
It added in the Tulsa supplemental submission to the court, that when they don’t suppress such discussions, “the Board will inflect severe consequences on those who merely mention certain ideas irrespective of whether such ideas further legitimate educational interests.”
Mustang officials are considering alternatives, according to NonDoc
Bradley suggested the state board may have violated the state’s Open Meetings Act “regarding knowing we were even on the agenda” for the board’s July 28 meeting.
The other path Mustang has to move forward, the superintendent said, would involve the Oklahoma Legislature.
“Talking with all of our local legislators, they are very sympathetic to what has happened to Mustang,” Bradley said during Mustang’s Aug. 15 school board meeting. “And they are very eager to know what can they do during the session so that school districts like Mustang who do everything right don’t end up getting punished when that was not the intent of the law.”