Next week Oklahoma City Public Schools will be welcoming back pre-K and kindergarten students to in-person classes on an A/B schedule, and the State Board of Education will hold its regular monthly meeting providing a semblance of normalcy.
This past week, however, Oklahoma education news has been dominated by updates in the ever expanding story of Epic Charter Schools.
Seriously, there’s a lot to catch up on. But we’re making it easy with this recap of headlines from reporters around Oklahoma.
State Department of Education demands $11.2 million from Epic Charter Schools
On Monday, Oct. 12, the Oklahoma State Board of Education held a special meeting where they approved a motion to demand Epic Charter Schools One-on-One and Epic Blended return $11,235,919 to the State Department of Education.
As reported by NonDoc this week, the money represents alleged over-expenditures on administrative costs and state dollars used for development expenses in California, as detailed by an audit from the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector’s Office. The board’s motion said Epic must comply within 60 days of receiving related paperwork.
Special counsel appointed to Epic audit
On Monday, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter appointed Melissa McLawhorn Houston to review the state audit of Epic Charter Schools.
Reported this week by the Oklahoman’s Nuria Martinez-Keel, Hunter said he recused himself from reviewing the audit because members of his office have been involved in several investigations into the virtual charter school. The attorney general is engaged in litigation for Epic’s financial records, and his office also serves as counsel for the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, which directly oversees Epic.
An attorney, Houston spent two decades in state government, including roles as the Oklahoma labor commissioner, secretary for education and workforce development, and as chief of staff for the attorney general.
SVCSB enters process to terminate contract with Epic
The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board approved a motion on Tuesday to enter the process for terminating their charter authorization contract with Epic One-on-One Charter Schools owing to alleged violations.
As NonDoc reported earlier this week, according to the Epic audit released by the State Auditor & Inspector’s Office on Oct. 1, SCVSB also has the responsibility of maintaining oversight and evaluation of the charter school, which includes data and evidence collection, site visits, attendance and governing board meetings, school website compliance checks, annual review and opportunity for school response, and performance reports.
Entering the termination process allows a hearing to be scheduled 90 days after Tuesday’s meeting. At that hearing, Assistant Attorney General Marie Schuble will present evidence to show contract violation. Epic will be allowed to present evidence as to why the contract should not be terminated.
SVCSB member is relative of Epic co-founder
In Tuesday’s meeting of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, members approved beginning the process of terminating their charter sponsorship with Epic Charter Schools in a 3-1 vote.
The Tulsa World’s Andrea Eger reported later in the week that the only no vote regarding the motion came from Phyllis Shepherd, a relative of Epic co-founder David Chaney.
A social media post from Shepherd to Chaney reads “Happy birthday, nephew.” She also signed anniversary well wishes to him from “Aunt Phyllis.”
A tip to the Tulsa World about the posts prompted them to look into genealogy records showing that Chaney and Shepherd are related on Chaney’s father’s side of the family.
State ethics rules prohibit a state official from using their office “for the private gain” of a family member, and the rules state that a state officer shall not participate in a matter “likely to have a direct and predictable effect on the material financial interests” of a family member.
According to Eger’s report, Shepherd and Chaney acknowledged being related but denied it represents a conflict of interest because they consider it to be a distant relation.
OKCPS announces winter sports guidelines
On Thursday, Oklahoma City Public Schools announced guidelines for the winter sport season, including gymnasium capacity limitations, temperature checks and mask mandates.
The Oklahoman’s Cameron Jourdan reported that each high school in the district will have 25 percent capacity in gymnasiums, and attendees must wear a mask and have their temperature checked at the door.
No food or drink will be permitted, and concession stands will remain closed throughout the season.
Athletes will be screened before and after every practice and game. Athletes and coaches will not be allowed to shake hands or fist bump at any time.
Mask mandate will continue for Mustang Public Schools
Mustang Public Schools officials announced that Mustang High School will continue operating on an A/B schedule through at least Nov. 20, with masks required for all students and staff.
KFOR reported this week that the decision from district leaders comes as cases of COVID-19 continue to climb in Canadian County.
Following a spike in cases after Labor Day, officials with Mustang Public Schools say they are doing what they can to prevent another jump in cases during fall break.
OKCPS teachers against returning to buildings
A union survey sent to Oklahoma City Public Schools pre-K and kindergarten teachers Tuesday revealed reservations about students and teachers returning to school buildings for in-person learning.
Brett Dickerson with the Oklahoma City Free Press reported that he received a copy of the survey from the Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers Local 2309. The survey was sent as pre-K and kindergarten teachers prepare to welcome their students back to the classroom Oct. 19.
The summation taken from survey results included a majority of teachers having reservations about going back to school with teachers in the building, teachers wanting to know how buildings would be cleaned in the future — or sharing that their facilities were not presently being thoroughly cleaned — and teachers reporting that many colleagues were not wearing masks and that those breaking the rules were not facing consequences.
The survey also states that contract tracing concerns were the most commented-on subject and that teachers do not feel it is being done with fidelity.
Oklahoma education tweets of the week
"In the meantime, board chairman John Harrington pleaded with the 61,000 students and their families who attend Epic, not to worry."
Here's a timeline of the process and why families should know that Epic won't cease operations this year.
— Sam Duell (@DuellSays) October 14, 2020
Turns out Epic Co-Founder David Chaney’s relative cast lone “no” vote on initiating termination proceedings against @EpicCharter Schools this week. Phyllis Shepherd was appointed to Statewide Virtual board in 2018 by OK’s Speaker of the House. https://t.co/uphyPf2Nlu #oklaed pic.twitter.com/UUjaLZkhzM
— Andrea Eger (@AndreaEger) October 15, 2020
Important part of this story is what Rose State will do about its sponsorship of Epic blended. The school said "Any statement at this time would be premature before all of the facts are laid out …" According to state audit, Rose State has never sought additional facts. https://t.co/IQ2kFdmR7I
— Ben Felder (@benfelder_okc) October 14, 2020
The Rose State Board of Regents will meet Oct. 21 about the Epic audit. Regents will hear a presentation of the audit and meet in executive session to discuss “potential legal issues.” There is NO agenda item mentioning contract termination.https://t.co/3rP7xMI51c pic.twitter.com/2UNKXR5pCH
— Nuria Martinez-Keel (@NuriaMKeel) October 16, 2020
Yesterday @OKCPS released a TON of info about safety & health protocols being taken to bring our students back in-person. I'm going to highlight some of these and add links. I know we're anxious but information can help make you feel better about your decisions. 1/
— Meg McElhaney (@igobymeg) October 16, 2020
#OKCPS families, please read the latest Message from McDaniel about the 2020 Return to Campus plan and health and wellness protocols featuring the video below: https://t.co/SIkHRHxNF9 pic.twitter.com/IKvJC601Em
— OKC Public Schools (@OKCPS) October 15, 2020