Citing a violation of a state law meant to limit instruction on race, gender and history, the Oklahoma State Board of Education voted Thursday to accredit Tulsa Public Schools with a warning effective immediately.
The State Department of Education had originally recommended that the district be accredited with two deficiencies, including one connected to violating House Bill 1775. However, the board voted to pull TPS from the list of districts and schools up for accreditation consideration and go a different route.
“I was originally in support of accreditation with probation, but I can get to the fact that accredited with a warning is sufficient in this case,” board member Estela Hernandez said. “We need to send a message that the deliberate breaking of the law is grounds for probation, but at this point, can definitely stand with a warning to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
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“Tulsa is one of the state’s largest districts. Other districts are looking at how we’re handling this and if we’re just going to bypass and do a deficiency, we’re not following the law.”
“Accreditation with warning” means a district or individual campus fails to meet one or more of state standards and that deficiency seriously detracts from the quality of the school’s educational program. It is a step up from accredited with probation.
Adopted in 2021, HB 1775 prohibits teaching that one race or sex is inherently superior to another. It also prohibits causing a student to feel guilty or uncomfortable because of their race or gender, as well as teaching that anyone is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or otherwise.
Under the law and administrative rules previously approved by the State Board of Education, a violation of that law is considered a deficiency with respect to accreditation.
At the board’s June meeting, attorney Brad Clark told the board that his office had determined that the district had violated the law with an implicit bias professional development session offered in August 2021 through a third-party vendor after investigating a complaint submitted in February from a science teacher at Memorial High School.
In the complaint, obtained by the Tulsa World via an open records request, the teacher claimed that the course in question had a section that “includes statements that specifically shame white people for past offenses in history, and state that all are implicitly racially biased by nature.”
During Thursday’s meeting, Clark said that while the slides from the presentation did not show a violation of the law, audio from the event indicated that the training broke the spirit of the law, if not the letter.
However, citing a limited access agreement with the third-party vendor, Clark’s office did not make the audio available to board members, prompting objections from Carlisha Williams Bradley, who represents the Tulsa area.
“I have concerns with (a) the fact that we weren’t provided all the context to make a decision and (b) the confusion of implicit bias with someone being inherently racist,” Williams Bradley said. “Implicit bias is something we all have. The teacher who complained said this was specifically speaking to white people but in this training, what I see is that it also explicitly states that we all have implicit biases. It’s not inherent by nature, but it is based upon our lived experiences.”
TPS was one of two districts statewide to be accredited with a warning due to a violation of HB 1775. The other district, Mustang Public Schools, self-reported an investigation and violation after the board’s June 23 meeting, prompting the Oklahoma State Department of Education to originally recommend it be accredited with one deficiency.
Both districts’ accreditation statuses were approved by a 4-2 count, with no votes from Williams Bradley and state Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. Board member Trent Smith was absent.
However, Mustang’s status was only brought up after an objection from Williams Bradley that TPS was being singled out for punitive action.
Documentation about Mustang’s violation was included in the documents distributed to the board prior to the meeting but had not been discussed, thus catching some board members unaware.
“You all said just said you wanted to pull other districts out, but you don’t and want to blanket approve other districts?” Williams Bradley said. “It was only about Tulsa. It’s clear. Your bias is showing.”
In an emailed statement, TPS officials reiterated that the training session in question was offered to fulfill a state obligation to provide a professional development session on race and ethnic education.
“In this training, it is clear there is no statement or sentiment pronounced that people are racist — due to their race or any other factor. We would never support such a training.”
Along with TPS, seven individual schools across Tulsa received accreditation with warning Thursday. Greenwood Leadership Academy and John Hope Franklin Elementary School were both penalized for not being in compliance with tornado drill requirements.
Project Accept TRAICE Elementary, an alternative site, was docked for not having enough fire, tornado and security drills.
The accreditation of two TPS authorized charter schools, KIPP Tulsa and Collegiate Hall, were both impacted for exceeding allowed administrative costs and submitting required reports late.
Collegiate Hall was also penalized for ending fiscal year 2021 with a negative balance and not following procurement requirements, two concerns that were raised when TPS’ board voted in October to renew its agreement with the midtown school.
Sankofa Middle School, a charter school authorized by Langston University, was also cited for exceeding administrative costs, as well as not being in compliance with the state’s Open Meeting Act.
Solid Foundation Preparatory Academy, a north Tulsa private elementary school that received state accreditation in June 2021, received accreditation with a warning due to not having a policy regarding felony record searches.
In addition, Epic Charter Schools was one of nine institutions statewide placed on probation for the coming school year. Probation is the last step before a school’s accreditation is revoked.
Others placed on probation include Sovereign Community Charter School in Oklahoma City and seven districts: Hardesty, Moseley, Moyers, Ninnekah, Straight, Varnum and Western Heights.
Meanwhile, Oologah-Talala Public Schools was taken off of probation and accredited without deficiencies. The district was placed on probation in 2020 after multiple teachers were accused of sexual misconduct and harassment.
“After more than two years, I believe they (Oologah) have made a huge change in the right direction,” board member Brian Bobek said. “They are setting an example of what can be done.”