The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted unanimously today to request the resignation of Western Heights Board of Education President Robert Everman.
During an executive session, the state board also discussed a lawsuit regarding sexual harassment and abuse allegations against former Ninnekah Public Schools basketball coach Ronald Gene Akins. The same executive session included deliberations about the teaching certificates of three other educators: Shawnee Public Schools assistant athletic director Ronald Arthur, who has been accused of sexual misconduct with students; Aaron Hernandez, who had been offered a job by Tulsa Public Schools when he was arrested on sexual misconduct charges; and Bart Daniel, a principal for Geary Public Schools who has faced a charge of child neglect and charges of domestic abuse in the past.
The state board voted to take over governance of Western Heights Public Schools in July amid requests for a state audit and allegations of financial mismanagement.
“I’d like to make a motion to formally call on the president of the Western Heights School Board, Robert Everman, to resign immediately, for a million reasons, not the least of which are his incestuous business relationship with former superintendent Mannix Barnes (and) his blatant disregard for use of taxpayer dollars,” state board member Trent Smith said. “I would also like to call on the parents and the stakeholders of the Western Heights school district to continue to put as much pressure on Mr. Everman as possible.”
In attempting to force compliance and install a state-appointed superintendent at Western Heights, officials with the State Department of Education say they have continued to receive push back from Everman and other Western Heights Board of Education members.
“[Robert Everman] is a scorn on your school district and a cancer in your midst, and he needs to be removed as soon as possible,” Smith said. “I only regret that we can’t do more today.”
Oklahoma County District Court Judge Aletia Timmons ruled that Western Heights must acknowledge the authority of the state board at an August hearing. The district’s attorney, Jerry Colclazier, had filed a motion to stay the board’s takeover in the Oklahoma Supreme Court, but it was denied.
Monty Guthrie, whom the state board appointed interim superintendent of Western Heights, told NonDoc on Wednesday that he is trying to focus on meeting the needs of students instead of dwelling on drama involving the local school board.
“I’ve sent an email or two to them, and one board member (Briana Flatley) has responded to me, and the other four have yet to respond to me,” Guthrie said. “I reached out and invited board members to call, and I would be glad to sit down and meet with them. There’s only been the one that has responded back to me.”
‘A culture that openly investigates any type of report or allegation’
After executive session, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister commented on the issues at Ninnekah Public Schools, where the community has been grappling with sexual assault allegations against the district’s former girls’ basketball coach. While no action was taken on this issue during Thursday’s meeting, Hofmeister said the state board is preparing to take next steps as the criminal and civil court processes also unfold.
“I do want it known that we are very closely following this. We’ve been on site investigating through our legal office (and) through our Title IX investigation as well,” Hofmeister said during the meeting. “The state board is preparing to take the next steps regarding accreditation for the school district, as well as other potential certification suspensions and revocations. While we are unable to take specific action today due to that process and those procedures and timelines that are required with statute, we still feel it’s important to address the general public and the community of Ninnekah that we hear them and we’re supportive of all of those that have been in any way harmed.”
Akins, a former teacher and girls’ basketball coach in the district, was charged with two counts of sexual battery and two counts of rape by instrumentation in Grady County District Court in June after three former Ninnekah Public Schools students accused him of sexual assault and rape while they attended the school district. The students were between 13 and 17 years old at the time of the alleged incidents.
Since then, The Oklahoman reported that 15 former players on the team have come forward in a federal lawsuit against Ninnekah Public Schools, Superintendent Todd Bunch, high school principal David Pitts, former school employees and Friend Public Schools — the district Atkins worked for prior to Ninnekah. The suit alleges that the district leadership and staff knew or should have known about the abuse.
Bunch and Pitts were suspended during Wednesday’s meeting of the Ninnekah Public Schools Board, which also saw board members Rusty Garrett and Scott Miller resign.
“The (state) board has taken it very seriously,” state board member Brian Bobek said Thursday. “There’s obviously a pending investigation. Next steps will be coming, but we’re taking this very seriously to help protect those in that community.”
“We want to ensure that there’s a culture that openly investigates any type of report or allegation and takes that very seriously,” Hofmeister said.
Shawnee assistant athletic director facing charges
State board members also voted 5-1 Thursday to suspend the educator certificate of Shawnee Public Schools assistant athletic director Ronald Arthur, who is facing charges of forcible sodomy, lewd or indecent proposals to a child, sexual abuse of a child and soliciting sexual conduct or communications with a minor by use of technology.
State board member Bill Flanagan cast the only vote against suspending Arthur’s certificate.
“The facts as we know them today are too close to make that decision,” Flanagan said after the meeting.
Arthur was arrested in Pottawatomie County in August after a former student said he messaged him on a dating app, which led to a sexual encounter. The student said the two had a separate sexual encounter in May, when the former student was 17 years old.
The affidavit of probable cause states that, upon further investigation with search warrants, there were eight admonishments found in Arthur’s employment file at Shawnee Public Schools for making vulgar and sexual comments to male students and vulgar comments about female students, allegations of having inappropriately touched a male’s buttocks, sending inappropriate text messages to students and having contact with students alone when he was not allowed to, per his previous reinstatements.
State board members voted unanimously to suspend the teaching certifications of Hernandez and Daniel.
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‘This is where we were all hoping we would not be’
Hofmeister informed board members toward the beginning of Thursday’s meeting that an eighth-grade student in Oklahoma City Public Schools and a teacher from the eastern part of the state had died from COVID-19.
“Sadly, this is where we were all hoping we would not be, yet we know that the delta variant is surging throughout communities, and schools are no exception to that,” Hofmeister said.
Hofmeister said there are 640,000 students statewide who are currently either too young to be vaccinated or haven’t received a vaccine yet.
“We have to stay vigilant. We know that some of our schools are demonstrating opportunities that are still within the law. SB 658 is a law that prohibits certain things that were possible last year,” she said. “However, as long as there is a parent opt-out process, there’s still the ability for a superintendent or a school district to require masks. That is at least giving those that are unvaccinated a fighting chance at protection.”
Various school districts throughout the state, including Oklahoma City Public Schools, have introduced mask requirements for the school year with an opt-out for parents and students if there is a medical, religious or “strong personal” reason.