no confidence
Catch up on the week's Oklahoma education news with our 'coveducation' update. (NonDoc)

It was a busy week in the Oklahoma education world with what seemed like endless meetings over the Epic Charter Schools audit, Oklahoma City Public Schools welcoming some students back to in-person learning and the Professional Educators of Norman presenting a vote of no confidence in their district’s superintendent.

There’s a lot to cover, but we’re making it easy to catch up on the week’s headlines from reporters around the state with our coveducation recap.

$10 million of COVID relief funds allotted for private schools likely allowable

The Tulsa World’s Barbara Hoberock reported that the $10 million in federal COVID-19 relief money used by Gov. Kevin Stitt to help private school students likely satisfies federal requirements. This is according to a letter sent to House Democrats this week.

In September, the House Democratic education policy group requested an opinion from Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter on whether Stitt acted within his authority regarding how he used this money.

The letter, authored by deputy general counsel Ethan Shaner, is not an official opinion issued by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, his office said.

The letter appears below:

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Multiple meetings discuss Epic audit findings

Epic Charter Schools
The House Common Education Committee and Appropriations & Budget Subcommittee for Education held one of many meetings on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020 to discuss the findings of the investigative audit into Epic Charter Schools. (Screenshot)

As reported this week, Wednesday was filled with respective meetings of the Rose State College Board of Regents, the House Common Education Committee and Appropriations & Budget Subcommittee for Education, and Community Strategies regarding the investigative audit of Epic Charter Schools.

The Epic audit was released by the State Auditor & Inspector’s Office on Oct. 1 and claims that the charter school owes the state $8.9 million after violating state law limiting the amount of money that can be spent on administrative costs, as well as using Oklahoma tax dollars to fund Epic Charter Schools California.  There were also issues of incorrect coding in the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System.

During the meeting of Community Strategies, Epic’s school board, motion 2020-01 was approved to begin making corrective actions. These actions include amending the intercompany agreement between One-on-One and Blended for requirement of board approval anytime there is a payment between the schools, amending the operating agreement between schools and Epic Youth Services to require board approval to more specifically set forth how Learning Fund and management fees are calculated, instructing the internal auditor to ensure that invoices are issued and paid in a timely manner and requiring board approval for any other financial transactions.

Any errors that arise must also be reported to the board at the following meeting, and the superintendent or board chair must sign all contracts on behalf of the school.

The board also approved a special meeting that will be held Nov. 18.

Rose State considers sponsoring charter school that is currently private religious school

Jennifer Palmer with Oklahoma Watch reported this week that Rose State College is considering authorizing another charter school. Rose State was criticized in the audit of Epic Charter Schools for providing weak oversight as the charter sponsor of Epic Blended.

The school is currently named St. John Christian Heritage Academy and is a private religious school in northeast Oklahoma City operated by St. John Missionary Baptist Church. Records show that the name would change as a charter school.

Palmer reported that the school’s governing board plans to retain close ties to the church, despite a state law prohibiting charters from being “affiliated with” a private school or religious institution.

Rose State has not finalized a contract with the school or finished reviewing its application. In the application, school leaders say the charter school’s programs, admissions policies, employment practices and all other operations would be nonsectarian.

Norman teachers present vote of no confidence

The Professional Educators of Norman presented a vote of no confidence in Superintendent Nick Migliorino during Monday’s Norman Public Schools Board of Education meeting.

Jonathan Kyncl with the OU Daily reported this week that the vote was a symbolic gesture to show there is unrest among faculty members in Norman.

The vote was offered to 664 faculty members with 480 faculty members voting. Of those taking part in the vote, 328 voted for having “no confidence” in Migliorino.

After the vote, PEN requested a town hall with Norman Public Schools leadership to create a dialogue about the current situation regarding COVID-19 protocols in the district.

Students search for shortcuts in virtual learning

A recent report from Jennifer Palmer with Oklahoma Watch looked at how the shift to virtual education amid the COVID-19 pandemic is challenging the system of determining what students actually know and limiting educators’ ability to ensure academic integrity.

Shared answers have become even more accessible as districts adopt or expand their use of online learning programs like Edgenuity.

According to a Department of Education survey, 70 percent of Oklahoma school districts had a virtual option at the start of the school year, with 7.5 percent attending classes online exclusively.

OKCPS welcomes back youngest learners

Oklahoma Education
Oklahoma City Public Schools superintendent Sean McDaniel addresses reporters in front of Hawthorne Elementary School on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020 as the district brings pre-K and kindergarten students back to classrooms. (Megan Prather)

Oklahoma City Public Schools welcomed pre-K and kindergarten students back to in-person learning Tuesday on an A/B schedule.

This is the district’s first milestone in bringing all students back to a traditional learning environment. OKCPS plans on bringing back first through 12th graders on Nov. 9 if Oklahoma County’s COVID rates stay below the State Department of Education’s red alert level.

However, teachers have given mixed reviews about the Return to Campus Plan. The Oklahoman’s Nuria Martinez-Keel reported that a survey given to 460 district teachers by the American Federation of Teachers-Oklahoma City found that about 60% were not comfortable having students back in buildings.

Tulsa secondary students to remain in distance learning

The Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education voted 6-1 at their meeting Monday to bring back middle, junior high and high school students to in-person learning on a four-per-weekweek schedule beginning Jan. 4, 2021.

The Tulsa World’s Kyle Hinchey reported that students in pre-K and kindergarten will return to in-person learning four days a week Nov. 9. Students in first through third grades will return four days per week starting Nov. 16. Fourth and fifth grades will return to campus Nov. 30 along with sixth graders who attend elementary school.

Families that want to remain in distance learning will be able to do so.

2021 Teacher of the Year finalists announced

The State Department of Education has announced the 2021 Oklahoma teacher of the year finalists.

According to a press release, finalists were selected after their application packets were reviewed by a panel of educators, legislators and members of business and nonprofit organizations.

Finalists include:

  • Melanie Ball, Guthrie Public Schools
  • Ginger Billman, Stillwater Public Schools
  • Valerie Brink, Bethany Public Schools
  • Lesa Dickson, Broken Arrow Public Schools
  • Jessica Eschbach, Norman Public Schools
  • Natalie Haworth, Durant Independent School District
  • Amy Lennertz, Piedmont Public Schools
  • Michael Patterson, Guymon Public Schools
  • Keri Smith, Yukon Public Schools
  • Krista Starbuck, Alva Public Schools
  • Stephanie Terry, Mid-Del Public Schools
  • Lori Zimmerman, Woodward Public Schools.

The 2021 Oklahoma teacher of the year will be named in February.

Oklahoma education tweets of the week

(Update: This post was updated at 11 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 25, to include a PDF of the letter from Mike Hunter’s office.)