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Editorial: Some Oklahoma lawmakers piling on to harass former teacher over books

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Oklahoma does not have a law banning books, but elected lawmakers want an investigation into a former Norman teacher who shared a QR code to the Brooklyn Public Library.

A dozen Oklahoma lawmakers are using their standing to intimidate — and possibly end the career of — a Norman teacher who resigned after a controversy over sharing a QR code for the Brooklyn Public Library.

The call from the Republican legislators for the state Education Department and State Board of Education to investigate Summer Boismier adds evidence that House Bill 1775 is being used as a weapon and not to improve education.

HB 1775 restricts teaching subjects that make a student “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress” because of their race or sex. It does not ban books but has created a chilling effect. Schools are pulling titles from shelves, and teachers are avoiding subjects in areas of history and civics.

The new law has been used to punish Mustang Public Schools for a self-reported possible violation. Tulsa Public Schools was disciplined despite Tulsa World reporter Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton’s finding that the attorney for the Education Department had not accurately described the facts related to the allegation when presenting it to the state board.

In Norman, a parent complained after Boismier posted the QR code and covered her classroom’s bookshelves with paper with the words “Books the state doesn’t want you to read” written on it. Students weren’t required to use the code or download books from the Brooklyn library. The parent argued, though, that Boismier was making a political statement and therefore had violated the law.

Since April, the Brooklyn library has made e-books and audiobooks available to teens around the country through its program Books Unbanned.

Education Secretary and state superintendent candidate Ryan Walters brought additional attention to Boismier by calling for her license to be revoked, which would prevent her from teaching again in the state. He claims that her actions were “indoctrination” and provided access to banned and pornographic books.

Then Boismier — a private citizen — received an outpouring of threatening messages and moved from her home, fearing for her safety.

In an interview with KOKH, Channel 25, she said: “I am a walking HB 1775 violation. And one of the sticking points between myself and my previous district was I would do it again in a heartbeat. … No regrets. Would do it again. Will do it again.” She said English could not be fully taught under the law’s restrictions and that she felt it better to quit.

The group of lawmakers, including state Sen. Cody Rogers of Tulsa, piled on with investigation requests.

The other legislators are Reps. Sherrie Conley of Newcastle, Tom Gann of Inola, Jim Grego of Wilburton, Jim Olsen of Roland, Marilyn Stark of Bethany, Wendi Stearman of Collinsville, Kevin West of Moore, Rick West of Heavener and Danny Williams of Seminole and Sens. George Burns of Pollard and Warren Hamilton of McCurtain.

This shameful targeting of a former teacher has become a national embarrassment. It is wrong and an abuse of power.

HB 1775 isn’t about making schools better; it’s a political tool to harass and bully public schools and teachers.

Oklahoma public education is facing a serious teacher shortage along with challenges in areas such as youth mental health and classroom resources. It needs champions, not grandstanding politicians stoking fear and scaring educators.

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