Following the Thanksgiving holiday, there’s a lot to catch up on in the Oklahoma education world, including Epic Charter Schools settling a 2019 legal claim and Gov. Kevin Stitt replacing a State Board of Education member.
Catch up on the Oklahoma education news you need with this weekly collection of headlines from reporters around the state.
Gov. Stitt replaces Board of Education member
Gov. Kevin Stitt abruptly replaced one of his own appointees to the Oklahoma State Board of Education this week.
The Tulsa World’s Andrea Eger reported Friday that Kurt Bollenbach of Kingfisher, whom Stitt appointed in April 2019 to serve a four-year term, was removed from the board and replaced by Enid resident Melissa Crabtree.
Bollenbach recently supported a high-profile move to recoup more than $11 million in state funding from Epic Charter Schools. He also supported a failed attempt to mandate masks in all public schools to help control the spread of COVID-19.
This is Stitt’s second such action in three weeks. In mid-November, he removed the president of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, John Harrington. Harrington recently led the initiation of termination proceedings against Epic Charter Schools and challenged two other board members over potential conflicts of interest with Epic.
The Frontier’s Dylan Goforth reported that Crabtree has aggressively fought against a mask mandate in the town of Enid.
Crabtree operates “Enid Freedom Fighters,” an anti-mask group there that has fought against mask mandates and has attempted to recall city commissioner Ben Ezzell, who proposed a city-wide mask mandate last summer.
Just got this in the inbox: Oklahoma Democrats voice their opposition to Stitt’s Board of Education appointment. pic.twitter.com/OgnxbC1HXt
— Robby Korth (@RobbyKorth) December 4, 2020
Epic Charter Schools settles teachers’ 2019 legal claim
Oklahoma Watch’s Jennifer Palmer reported this week that Epic Charter Schools has made a nearly $29,000 payment to settle claims with three former teachers who sued the virtual school, alleging they were pressured to withdraw poor-performing students.
Epic denied the allegations.
A payment of $28,879.35 was made Oct. 14 to an attorney representing the school to settle claims with Shaunna Atchley, Jason Deskin and Ryan Aispuro, records show. The teachers’ lawsuits, filed against Epic in 2019, have been dismissed.
Mustang Schools announces in-school quarantine pilot program
The Oklahoma State Department of Health has developed a policy change to allow students who have been exposed to COVID-19 to quarantine in school.
NonDoc reported this week that Mustang Public Schools will be the first district in the state to participate in the pilot program, starting with Mustang High School.
Participation is optional for schools, and they must meet specific criteria, including the availability of facilities that allow students to follow social distancing guidelines and frequent COVID testing for students.
However, there have been concerns from some Mustang Parents as well as education groups.
Oklahoma AG weighs in on student discrimination question
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter issued a legal opinion Wednesday saying state-funded scholarships cannot be withheld from a private school unless it discriminates against students based on race, color or national origin.
The Oklahoman’s Nuria Martinez-Keel reported that Gov. Kevin Stitt called the opinion a “big win.”
Last year, the State Department of Education tried to add disability, sex, religion, sexual orientation and status as a parent to a list of protected classes for the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program. The expanded rules would have prohibited private schools from receiving the scholarship funds if they discriminated against students on those grounds.
Hunter said the department doesn’t have the legal authority to impose additional requirements beyond the protected classes outlined in state law.
School funding outlook distressing
Kathryn McNutt of Oklahoma Watch reported this week that school districts are bracing for additional funding as they currently struggle to teach students during a pandemic with fewer state dollars.
Choctaw-Nicoma Park Public Schools began the school year with $1.7 million less in state aid than last year.
Midwest City-Del City Public Schools Superintendent Rick Cobb said district officials are discussing how to prepare the community for a different funding picture this year, and even more so for next year.
Poll: Voters would support Oklahoma education reform
A recent poll conducted by Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates showed voter support for various education reform proposals in Oklahoma.
NonDoc reported this week that the national education reform coalition Yes Every Kid commissioned the survey. Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, an education reform group, is part of this coalition and has also been tasked with dispersing millions of dollars in CARES Act funding for education.
The survey was completed by 500 registered voters in the state though mobile phone, land line and a text-to-web system. Results showed strong support for education issues such as school choice, funding based on enrollment and streamlining teacher certifications for professionals.
Districts want coordination on state-provided PPE
Although Gov. Kevin Stitt’s administration provided about $10 million in personal protective equipment to Oklahoma school districts in August, some superintendents ultimately expressed frustration over the timing.
NonDoc reported this week that some district officials say the state-provided PPE came too late, as they had already gone through their budgets to find money to purchase items themselves.
Lawton Public Schools spent more than $1 million on PPE for students and faculty.
Oklahoma education tweets of the week:
This Nov. quote by @GovStitt in response to a question from @ThriceSavage is good context today: "We certainly want our appointees to think the way we do and to encourage all the things that we’re talking about. So I assume they would be right in line with where my beliefs are." https://t.co/V4k9ppboyh
— Robby Korth (@RobbyKorth) December 4, 2020
— Jennifer Palmer (@jpalmerOKC) December 4, 2020
A10: I try to be present in our local schools as often as I can so I can be where the great things are happening. I also attend our board meetings where Supt. @grendelrick provides excellent info about the great things happening in our schools. #oklaed https://t.co/Wku37I7owT
— Andy Fugate – OK House District 94 (@afugate) November 30, 2020
— Kyle Farnham (@theMrFarnham) November 30, 2020
6,000 winter coats + 4,700 distanced learning kits = community support for more than 10,000 @OKCPS students! 👏 Through Kit-A-Kid & Coat-A-Kid programs, our partners rallied around kiddos to ensure a warm & productive semester. Read more 👉 https://t.co/fikGqVVTqS pic.twitter.com/QCCYuxYl6D
— Foundation for OKCPS (@FoundationOKCPS) December 2, 2020