Oklahoma County District Court Judge Aletia Timmons is giving Western Heights Public Schools eight days to file a response to a State Board of Education emergency petition that asks her to order Western Heights’ board to acknowledge the state’s authority over the troubled district’s day-to-day operations.
During a virtual hearing this afternoon, Jerry Colclazier, legal counsel for Western Heights, requested that Timmons give the district 20 days to respond to the state board’s writ of mandamus.
“I’m going to allow Western Heights a continuance to respond, but I’m not giving you 20 days on the backs of these kids in Western Heights,” Timmons said.
A new hearing has been scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 12. However, State Department of Education legal counsel Brad Clark argued that Colclazier’s request was an attempt at delay.
“I really don’t think anything in the request is new or a surprise to the district,” Clark said. “The additional time, I believe, is being sought for purposes of delay. That’s unfortunate to the kids of that district.”
Clark told Timmons a lot of issues need to be addressed within Western Heights before the first day of school on Aug. 18.
“Just to point out one issue I was made aware of today — at this point, it appears that only two of the 34 school busses in the district are operational as passing inspection,” Clark said. “That’s just one issue that needs to get going and (be) taken care of before school can open.”
Timmons questioned why the Western Heights Board of Education and State Department of Education can’t find common ground for the good of the students. The judge said the two sides’ inability to work together puts a “bad taste in her mouth.”
“I’m a common sense kind of person,” Timmons said. “You’ve got school busses that aren’t running. I would think that the acting superintendent appointed by the Western Heights Board and the State Department of (Education) would sit down and talk to each other and figure out if there’s some common ground and get these things done for the good of those children before we have a hearing.”
Acknowledging the state board’s control
The 253-page writ of mandamus, filed by the state on July 22, requests that a judge order the district to recognize and adhere to the state board’s terms surrounding accreditation probation. The court filing follows resistance by Western Heights to the state’s recent takeover of the district.
The petition (embedded below) states that the district has refused to perform certain acts required by law, including acknowledging the authority, powers and duties of the State Board of Education, State Department of Education and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister.
At a July meeting, the state board voted to take over governance of the district for a year. The state board placed Western Heights’ accreditation on probation in April and appointed an interim superintendent in July after saying the Western Heights board had not addressed the problems at hand.
While Hofmeister assigned Monty Guthrie as the interim superintendent of the district, Western Heights has pushed back against the state’s orders, holding a meeting to appoint an interim superintendent of their own. OSDE staff said they believe the Western Heights meeting and vote were invalid.
The emergency petition includes correspondence sent to the state board, State Department of Education and Clark on July 20 by Colclazier that made the district’s resistance to the state board’s authority clear.
“As you know, and as I made clear at the meeting with Mr. Clark and Mr. Guthrie last Friday, the Western Heights School District does not recognize the authority of the state superintendent or state board to take over and operate the district, or conduct an ‘intervention,’ or to employ or appoint our superintendent,” the email from Colclazier states.
The correspondence continues by saying that “our local board of education, our interim superintendent and our staff will continue to control and operate the Western Heights School District.”
Western Heights Public Schools operates four elementary schools, an intermediate school (fifth and sixth grades), a middle school (seventh and eighth grades), a ninth-grade center, a high school and an alternative program. Last year’s districtwide enrollment was 2,729, a decline over prior years.