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Oklahoma Board of Education Downgrades Accreditation of Two Public School Districts for Alleged Violation of Anti-Critical Race Theory Bill

Members of the Oklahoma State Board of Education are seen in a July 28, 2022 meeting about whether to downgrade the accreditation of two public schools in the state over allegations it violated the state's anti-CRT law.

Oklahoma State Board of Education, July 28, 2022 (via screengrab/KJRH).

The Oklahoma board of education has downgraded the accreditation for the state’s largest school district based on a teacher’s complaint that the district’s implicit bias training violated state law and “shamed white people.”

In a 4-2 vote on Thursday, the state school board voted to downgrade the accreditation status of two public school districts to “Accredited with Warning” after the districts allegedly violated HB1775, also known as the state’s anti-CRT bill, a reference to “Critical Race Theory.”

Critical Race Theory is a decades-old academic concept built around the idea that racism is not just the result of individual bias, but that it is built into legal systems and policies, according to Education Week. While CRT has traditionally been a subject of advanced scholarship, it has recently come to represent nearly any inclusion and diversity effort, in almost any context.

The Oklahoma law prohibits class instruction that teaches that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.” It also prohibits teaching any concept that “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex[.]”

The two “no” votes at Thursday’s meeting came from State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, who said that she believes the majority vote is “an escalation that feels rather emotional, and board member Carlisha Williams Bradley, who questioned why the board wasn’t given access to the specific material, according to a report by local NBC affiliate KJRH.

Bradley also said at the meeting that there was “confusion of implicit bias and someone being inherently racist,” noting that they are not the same thing.

The “Accredited with Warning” status is the third out of five possible rankings, the lowest being “Nonaccredited,” and the highest being “Accredited With No Deficiencies.” The state education department had recommended that the accreditation be dropped to the second-highest status, “Accredited With Deficiencies.”

“An Escalation That Feels Rather Emotional.”

A teacher from Memorial High School in Tulsa reportedly complained to the Oklahoma Department of Education in February that a teacher training, which took place in August 2021, violated state law HB1775.

According to the complaint, which has been reviewed by Law&Crime, a teacher at Memorial High School said that she was being “told by Tulsa Public Schools administrators” that she “must complete a mandatory set of 3 compliance courses” through a training program.

“The 2nd compliance course contains 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,” the letter says.

According to Tulsa public radio station KWGS, that complaint came from Amy Cook, who earlier this year was investigated for allegedly turning part of her science classroom into a prayer area. According to Tulsa Public Radio, Cook pulled a student out of class after the student posted a non-Christian prayer on the wall, telling her that she would “burn in Hell” unless she converted to Christianity.

Cook did not immediately respond to Law&Crime’s request for comment.

In a statement sent to Law&Crime, Tulsa Public Schools pushed back on the allegations in the complaint.

In Tulsa, we are teaching our children an accurate — and at times painful, difficult, and uncomfortable — history about our shared human experience. We also teach in a beautifully diverse community and need our team to work together to be prepared to do that well.

To best do that and also to meet the state’s annual requirement that school districts offer a training about “race and ethnic education,’ we provided a training that included the topic of implicit bias. 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.

It is notable that Governor Stitt’s state board of education spent significant time today talking about the complaints of one teacher in our district (among the hundreds of accreditation deficiencies statewide) and no time on the catastrophic teacher shortage facing every district in our state.

We want Tulsa families to know:
– We do not teach a law school academic body of work known as “critical race theory” in our elementary and secondary schools.
– We are focused on your child’s educational success. That means every child in Tulsa.

We also want our families to know that despite the continued political drama and the worst possible conditions educators have ever faced in Oklahoma, we will stay focused on what matters most—our students.

Right now, we need to finish our summer camps and prepare for the start of school.

“The Intent of This Activity Was to Help Students Empathize With Each Other.”

According to Education Week, the state board also downgraded the accreditation of Mustang Public Schools after the district self-reported what it believed was a violation of HB1775.

That alleged violation occurred during an in-class exercise, according to a statement from Charles Bradley, the superintendent of Mustang Public Schools.

“Through our investigation that was turned over to the OSDE, we determined that some questions asked of students in a Cross-the-Line Activity (conducted in a single class at one of the Mustang middle schools) were based on race,” Bradley said Monday in a statement. “Specifically, 7 of 29 questions pertained in some way to one’s race and were intermixed with questions such as ‘If one or both of your parents graduated from college, take one step forward.’ The intent of this activity was to help students empathize with each other and bring the students in the class together as a team, but unfortunately it was determined that at least one question did violate the spirit of the law.”

That question, according to Bradley: “If you have ever been called names regarding your race, socioeconomic class, gender, sexual orientation, or physical/learning disability and felt uncomfortable, take one step back.”

Bradley said that MPS’s internal investigation found that this question “violated the spirit of HB1775.”

Bradley emphasized that the questions in the exercise “are not part of any curriculum adopted by MPS, nor are they a part of any curriculum approved or adopted by the State of Oklahoma,” and that the activity was “immediately discontinued.”

Bradley also said that “despite what has been reported, the legal theory of Critical Race Theory (CRT) has not been and is not being taught in Mustang Public Schools.”

“Although HB1775 is widely known as the ‘anti-CRT bill,’ that terminology is not present in the language of the law nor the rules,” Bradley added. “Mustang Public Schools does not condone actions contrary to the law; we have and will continue to train staff on how to meet the requirements of the law and will work to resolve any issues or concerns as they arise.

Bradley said in the letter that “MPS is committed to fostering an inclusive, respectful, and supportive learning environment, and it is regretful that this situation occurred.”

[Image via YouTube screengrab/KJRH.]

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