The Western Heights Public Schools Board of Education was expected to enter executive session during today’s special meeting and hold confidential communications with attorney Jerry Colclazier, who is representing the district in a lawsuit against the State Board of Education. However, Colclazier did not attend the meeting, prompting board members to skip the agenda item and leaving some community members frustrated.
Western Heights and its controversial superintendent, Mannix Barnes, filed the lawsuit after the state board put the district’s accreditation on probation, citing several issues with mismanagement, particularly regarding Barnes.
Neither Barnes, who recently had his educator certificate suspended by the state board, nor the Western Heights board’s newest member, Briana Flatley, attended Monday’s meeting.
Robert Everman, president of the Western Heights Public Schools Board, did attend the day’s meeting but declined to speak with reporters afterward.
“You can speak with our attorney,” Everman told NonDoc and News 9’s Ashley Holden.
Holden asked Everman why he would not comment about what actions his board might be taking, excluding personnel decisions, before the state board’s meeting July 12.
“I don’t speak about anything that’s not on the agenda,” Everman said.
Community members who lingered after Monday’s seven-minute meeting were baffled.
Brianna Dodd, who said she would like to transfer her child back into Western Heights after issues are resolved, said she had left work to attend the noon meeting.
“What it shows is that they’re not backing the community. It shows they’re not listening to the State Department of Education, and it shows their incompetence to the positive direction we’re trying to make our district go,” Dodd said. “We have all these teachers that showed up today. We’ve got teachers that have retired, teachers that have moved on to other districts — just to see if the board would back them today. They’re not backing anybody but Mannix Barnes, and that’s been proven.”
State board could pull Western Heights’ accreditation
Last week, the state board also approved a motion to notify the Western Heights Public Schools Board that, on July 12, the state board may consider modifying the district’s probationary accreditation status to include state intervention and/or possible loss of accreditation and annexation if the local board fails to suspend Barnes from his position and implement corrective actions established by the state board.
The state board placed Western Heights’ accreditation on probation at an April meeting owing to operational issues at the district, 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 State Board of Education adjusted their accreditation status to probation, giving an opportunity for the adults, the leaders of that school district, to course-correct (and) to engage in meaningful repair among claims of harassment, retaliation, student enrollment decline, on and on,” State Board of Education general counsel Brad Clark said during last week’s meeting. “The response was ‘we have radical parents,’ number one, and number two, to file a lawsuit against the state board of education for giving them an opportunity to course-correct.”
After Monday’s meeting, NonDoc also reached out to new board member Flatley, who had been absent.
“Unfortunately I have been advised by [Oklahoma State School Board Association] attorneys to not comment on this matter,” Flatley said in a text message. “With the state board’s decision last week this does make it a personnel issue for the Western Heights Board of Education members; therefore, we cannot comment for a fair due process hearing.”
‘This is a waste of time’
During Monday’s meeting, the Western Heights board accepted the resignations of eight certified personnel and approved the employment of 16 certified personnel.
Former Western Heights teacher Kim Harrison said the current situation in the district definitely contributed to her decision to retire earlier in the year. She attended the day’s meeting wearing a shirt that read, “What are you going to do, fire me?”
“This is a waste of time, and the fact that they didn’t even address the state school board meeting — they’ve got until the 12th to get that all settled, and they didn’t even broach it,” an exasperated Harrison said. “They didn’t even talk about it. What’s the point?”
Western Heights High School technology teacher Samantha Bell said she thinks the district needs to go further than just removing Barnes from his position.
“I think they need to get rid of (Barnes), get rid of the board, except for Briana, and get rid of everybody in this administration building. The corruption is very deep,” Bell said. “I want somebody that’s going to listen to the kids, listen to the parents and care about the employees.”
The Western Heights Public Schools Board of Education is scheduled to meet next on July 12.
(Correction: This article was updated at 11:38 a.m. Tuesday, June 29, to reflect a more accurate length of the meeting. NonDoc regrets the error.)