The State Board of Education and Epic Charter Schools board each welcomed new members during respective meetings this week.
Also this week, Tulsa Public Schools called for vaccine prioritization for school employees amid criticism from Gov. Kevin Stitt over the districts decision to remain in distance learning.
Catch up on the week’s Oklahoma education news with this collection of headlines from reporters around the state.
Impromptu interview with Epic Charter Schools co-founder Ben Harris
Epic Charter Schools co-founder Ben Harris isn’t known for talking extensively to the media. So, when NonDoc editor-in-chief Tres Savage ran into him on Monday evening while trying to access a board meeting, he turned on his recording device and asked him a few questions.
Read and listen to this interview, where Harris answers questions surrounding recent issues facing Oklahoma’s largest — and most controversial — school district.
Mike Cantrell leaves Epic Charter Schools board
The Epic Charter Schools board met Monday evening, accepting the resignation of 11-year board member Mike Cantrell and appointing new member J.P. Franklin.
NonDoc asked Cantrell about his time on the board and his thoughts on the ongoing criminal investigation and investigative audit facing the charter school.
“It’s a very disappointing sham in my opinion,” Cantrell said. “The State Board has audited us, and we’ve been audited by their approved auditors ever since inception and never had a major problem. They’ve always approved the audits. All of a sudden it becomes a political football and the state auditor and the State Department of Education all joined together and piled on. Where were they before? Were they not doing their job for 11 years?”
State Auditor & Inspector Cindy Byrd sent a statement to NonDoc following the publication of Cantrell’s comments.
“Epic may try to discredit the audit, and insult me personally, yet the Epic School Board, including Mr. Cantrell has implemented many of the changes recommended by our audit,” the statement said.
Epic’s new board member spread COVID misinformation on social media
The Epic Charter Schools board appointed new member J.P. Franklin to the board during a Monday meeting.
The Oklahoman’s Nuria Martinez-Keel reported that Franklin has made multiple posts on his publicly viewable Facebook account questioning the reality of COVID-19 and calling the pandemic “lies.”
“I do not view social media as a complete and deep reflection of mine or any person’s conclusive thoughts on any matter,” Franklin wrote in a statement to the Oklahoman. “People are often satirical, joking and sarcastic on social media, too. Suffice to say, I take COVID seriously and concerning what I know of Epic, I agree with how it has/is being handled.”
Tulsa Public Schools call for vaccine support
The Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist, Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association President Shawna Mott-Wright and president of the local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers Nancy Leonard issued a joint statement this week calling for school employees to be moved up on the state’s vaccine priority list.
The Tulsa World’s Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton reported that Gov. Kevin Stitt has been critical of the school district’s decision to remain in distance learning. Tulsa Public Schools plans on continuing distance learning through March 22.
Stitt issued a response to the joint statement via a spokesperson.
“For over 300 days, the governor and parents have been wondering what is motivating Tulsa’s superintendent, now the only district in the state refusing to offer in-person learning, and today she has revealed what those motives were: she puts teachers unions first, not students,” he said.
Here is some news I would like to see today: @GovStitt prioritizes schools for vaccines.
We have a clinic going now for 65+only. Do I have your approval to vaccinate other team members ? Priority for those with health risks & working with students with special needs. Yes? https://t.co/TSX841YlRY
— Deborah Gist (@deborahgist) January 27, 2021
State Board of Education updates policy for revoking teacher certifications
NonDoc reported that causes for the revocation or suspension of teaching certification include being convicted of certain crimes, willfully violating rules and regulations of the State Board or U.S. Department of Education and willfully violating state or federal law. A certification can also be revoked for other proper cause.
The change approved by the board would include violation of the Oklahoma Standards of Performance and Conduct for Teachers as a reason for suspension or revocation. Professional standards outlined include teachers making reasonable efforts to protect students from conditions harmful to health and safety and not intentionally exposing a student to embarrassment or disparagement.
The board also approved a motion to put Woodland School District’s state accreditation on probation. The Tulsa World’s Andrea Eger reported that Woodland Schools, in Osage County, is the only public school district in the country to ignore federal reporting requirements since 2015.
Federal COVID relief and Oklahoma schools
Oklahoma Watch’s Jennifer Palmer reported that the state has received more than $825 million in federal COVID-19 relief aid for k-12 education since the start of the pandemic in order to address student learning loss, reopen schools safely and mitigate virus impact on families.
Palmer’s report includes a searchable table with the federal relief funds allocated to each Oklahoma school district.
New data alert 🚨
I compiled the federal relief funds to each #oklaed school district in a handy, searchable table, combined with this year's enrollment. Note: there are other ways schools could have received $, ie grants, PPP (charter schools), etc. https://t.co/Bozk5WizAZ
— Jennifer Palmer (@jpalmerOKC) January 29, 2021
Two current board members, former member run for OKCPS chairperson
The chairperson seat of the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education is up for election with incumbent OKCPS chairperson Paula Lewis, incumbent District 1 board member Charles Henry and 50-year educator and former board member Wilfredo Santos Rivera on the primary ballot.
The primary election will take place Tuesday, Feb. 9, with a general election set for April 6 if no single candidate receives more than 50 percent of the Feb. 9 vote. The deadline to request an absentee ballot for the primary election is Feb 2.
Learn more about where the candidates stand on issues facing the district before you head to the polls here.
University of Oklahoma Board of Regents approve new degree programs
The University of Oklahoma Board of Regents approved new degree programs for students at Thursday’s meeting.
KFOR’s Hicham Raache reported OU will now offer an online Master of Arts in Art and Technology and approved new undergraduate and graduate certificates in applied statistics and in data analytics. The university will also expand its’ existing Master of Clinical Mental Health Counseling program to offer the degree at the OU-Tulsa campus.
The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education will have final approval over the degree proposals.
OSU planning to hold in-person classes in the fall
Despite holding both online and in-person instruction for the 2020/2021 school year owing to COVID-19, Oklahoma State University plans on holding classes on campus for the fall 2021 semester.
KFOR’s Kaylee Douglass reported that university health officials are making plans that follow national and state health guidelines. Vice Provost Dr. Jeanette Mendez told KFOR that they will make adjustments to the protocols as needed as the semester draws closer.
Oklahoma education tweets of the week
An interesting editorial from the Governor's hometown paper re: his rhetoric on school reopening. https://t.co/rGllbhqtBr
— Robby Korth (@RobbyKorth) January 25, 2021
"Our students, teachers, parents, and community deserve better. Oklahoma deserves better. Our children are watching and waiting." pic.twitter.com/8KgB8by8dN
— Chris Polansky (@ChrisKPolansky) January 28, 2021
@BixbyPS announces that North ES, plus all sixth graders at East Intermediate are going to distance learning for Thursday and Friday. As per the district, almost 10 percent of its students are either in quarantine or isolation. #oklaed
— Lenzy KB (@LenzyKB) January 27, 2021
Thank you to @oksde Superintendent, @joy4ok, for proclaiming February 1-5 National School Counseling Week! I am so grateful for a state leader who understands the tremendous impact school counselors have in helping all students succeed! #oklaed #NSCW21 #OklahomaSchoolCounselor pic.twitter.com/fDpKYlRMOC
— Ms. Sarah Kirk (@Counselor_Kirk) January 27, 2021