After Monday night’s Western Heights Board of Education meeting, at which the board ratified a lawsuit against the State Board of Education, Superintendent Mannix Barnes and other board members received police escorts to their cars after community members attending the meeting erupted in calls for their resignation.
The calls for resignation follow multiple complaints from parents and employees about the district’s leadership — a situation that recently led the State Board of Education to place the district on probation.
The district’s lawsuit against the state board, filed April 22, objects to the probation, and the motion to ratify the suit passed 4-1 at Monday’s meeting, with the board’s newest member, Briana Flatley, casting the only vote against. Flatley won April’s election against incumbent Darrel Raper, who was appointed to the board following the resignation of a former board member in 2020 and has also been discovered to be a neighbor of Barnes.
“The district alleges that, generally, its due process rights were violated.” Western Heights attorney Jerry Colclazier said during the meeting. “The State Department of Education put Western Heights on probation without the slightest bit of investigation, without notifying their attorney or anyone else in this district that they were conducting some sort of a secret investigation. They did that and it was wrong and I look forward to the day we’re going to be able to argue that in court.”
Meanwhile, community members not only shouted calls for resignation after the meeting but also stood outside with signs protesting Barnes and criticized the board’s actions during the meeting’s public-comment portion and called for more transparency.
“At board meetings, board members and administration exit hastily through the rear to avoid community interactions,” Western Heights parent Amy Boone said during the public comment portion of the meeting. “We are not given the basic rights that are afforded to all Oklahomans in that we are not given access to our elected officials to share our concerns and ideas and know how our tax money is being spent.”
Lawsuit alleges violations of due process
The state board placed the district’s accreditation on probation based of a number of factors, including:
- failure to provide in-person instruction since March 2020;
- a decision in the spring of 2020 not to provide nutritional services to students;
- an audit report showing violations of state law, including the use of 2018 bond proceeds meant for contracting and repairing facilities to pay off debt instead;
- a board member consuming alcohol during a public meeting;
- a 23 percent drop in student enrollment, from 3,365 to 2,597, in the past year, and a loss of more than 100 staff members in the past two years;
- disharmony in the school environment and community.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Oklahoma County District Court on April 22, alleges that the state board violated the Open Meetings Act and Administrative Procedures Act when voting to place the district’s accreditation under probation and requests declaratory judgement to determine that the state board:
- “has violated the district’s right of a fair and impartial adjudication, and has violated the due process rights of the superintendent by reaching decisions of great importance without standards, procedures or policies, and such decisions should be vacated and held for naught”;
- “has failed to properly promulgate fair policies and procedures or set forth standards and guidelines for the fair and impartial adjudication, in the form of individual proceedings, of accreditation or other actions against school districts which affect the district, its staff and its students”;
- “must lawfully promulgate appropriate and fair procedures prior to taking any action against the superintendent or district which might reduce or revoke accreditation and/or funding of the district”;
- “has no legal authority to order district employees or volunteer board members to attend state board meetings or legally sanction them for a failure to appear”;
- “has failed to conduct an investigation or file the required reports, all of which must occur before an individual proceeding, and that all decisions on March 25 and April 9 regarding or affecting the district and superintendent is invalid.”
Barnes was not in attendance of the March 25 and April 9 state board meetings at which Western Heights was discussed before the probation decision was reached.
Barnes and Colclazier were, however, in attendance at the April 22 state board meeting, where they were asked to provide an update on the situation, but they refused to discuess the board’s reasons for putting the district on probation, owing to the lawsuit.
“I advised the superintendent that, in my opinion, the State Board of Education acted against the law because they violated the Open Meetings Act, because they violated the state’s Administrative Procedures Act and this is not the first time that Western Heights has been selectively prosecuted by the State Department of Education,” Colclazier said.
‘They don’t do anything for our school so we don’t need them’
Concerned Western Heights community members gathered outside before Monday’s board meeting to call for the resignation of Barnes and other board members.
Community members have been expressing frustration with the school district for years.
At a school board meeting in October 2019, 15 Western Heights employees resigned in protest of the district’s management.
“We’ve lost (about) 115 teachers in two years under this man’s administration,” Western Heights parent Briana Dodd told NonDoc. “That’s got to say something.”
Also in October 2019, Western Heights parents requested an investigation of the district for issues including classroom overcrowding and hiring decisions. They also called for an investigation into Barnes’ $220,000 salary and his work history and relationship with school-board members.
In February of this year, the Western Heights Education Association and community collected 998 signatures for a citizen’s petition requesting a special audit of the school district by the State Auditor & Inspector’s Office.
The petition requests that the audit looks into child nutrition program expenditures, district credit card expenditures of certain administrative personnel, the issuance of school bonds used to finance and purchase school busses and payments related to consultant and attorney fees.
“We would like our superintendent, Mannix Barnes, to resign. We’d also like Robert Everman, the president, Robert Sharp, Linda Farley and Rosalind Cravens (to resign).” Dodd said. “They don’t do anything for our school so we don’t need them.”