OOLOGAH — The local school board held a special meeting Thursday evening to discuss the employment status of Oologah-Talala Public Schools’ superintendent, exactly three weeks after both the board and the district’s top administrator came under fire by the state for their handling of five separate cases of teacher misconduct.
In late June, the Oklahoma State Board of Education slapped the small Rogers County school district with accreditation probation and public reprimands for the local school board and Superintendent Max Tanner for their handling of five separate cases of teacher “misconduct of a sexual nature involving students” over the last four years.
Not all of the cases resulted in criminal prosecution, but all five did result in the suspension or revocation of the teachers’ credentials by the state board.
On Thursday, the local school board met for about three hours in a closed-door executive session to discuss “the employment, hiring, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining or resignation of the Superintendent,” according to its posted agenda, which also noted, “The Board does not anticipate any action occurring after the board reconvenes into public session. Any related action would be scheduled for a future meeting of the board of education.”
Indeed, the board took no action on the matter of Tanner’s employment after returning to open session.
Board President Don Tice noted for the record that State Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, had been present with Tanner in the executive session.
Asked afterward what the purpose of Pemberton’s presence was, Tice said he had been allowed in “as a personal representative” of Tanner.
A 2007 Tulsa World story about Pemberton’s termination as principal at Muskogee’s Hilldale High School quoted Tanner as a former colleague of Pemberton’s at Hilldale.
As for whether any further discussion of Tanner’s employment status would be needed at future school board meetings, Tice told the World: “That remains to be seen.”
Last weekend, a letter signed by all five members of the Oologah-Talala school board went out to students’ parents acknowledging their “concerns, frustrations and suggestions” expressed over the last few weeks.
An online petition calling for Tanner’s removal as superintendent, a position he has held for six years, has garnered nearly 800 signatures since the petition was created a month ago.
When the local board held its regular monthly meeting on Monday, it voted to put in place three new policies — one titled “Abuse, Neglect, Exploitation and Trafficking,” a second one titled “Discrimination, Harassment, Retaliation” and a third on professional conduct by staff.
And the board also moved out of the district’s athletic department the responsibilities for compliance with and response to complaints concerning Title IX — the federal law that prohibits gender-based discrimination, and sexual harassment and sexual violence in educational settings. Those duties have been assigned to Assistant Superintendent Tony Sappington.
The state board’s extraordinary action against Oologah-Talala’s accreditation will be in place through the 2020-21 academic year, with local officials being required to provide quarterly updates to the state Board of Education beginning July 23.
Representatives of the school district were first summoned before the state board in October, citing their handling of four separate cases of teacher “misconduct of a sexual nature involving students” over the last four years.
Then they were summoned again in a March letter, which stated that a concerned parent had informed the state about a new case — this time of a high school girls basketball coach accused by multiple students of sexual harassment — that the local school district reportedly did not tell the state board about in a timely fashion.
But the matter before the State Board of Education was delayed until its late June meeting as state and local education officials grappled with statewide school closures because of the coronavirus pandemic.