The Oklahoma State Board of Education holds a regular meeting Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021. (Megan Prather)

The Oklahoma State Board of Education on Thursday lifted the emergency suspension of former Ninnekah High School principal David Pitts’ educator certificate, pending a formal revocation hearing.

The decision came after an executive session of Thursday’s state board meeting, which also involved discussion of ongoing litigation with Western Heights Public Schools and former Ninnekah Public Schools Superintendent Michael Todd Bunch.

Board member Brian Bobek read the motion to lift the emergency suspension of Pitts’ certificate, with board member Jennifer Monies questioning whether the State Department of Education would continue with a revocation hearing.

“I know the motion is to lift the emergency suspension,” Monies said. “Is the department continuing with the due process of revocation on David Pitts?”

Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said the department would continue moving forward with revocation to be presented to board members at another time.

Bunch and Pitts initially had their educator certificates suspended by the state board in September, the same meeting where board members voted to put the district’s accreditation on probation owing to sexual assault allegations against former teacher and girls’ basketball coach Ronald Gene Akins.

However, after Bunch filed a petition challenging his suspension in Oklahoma County District Court and an administrative law judge recommended that the suspension be lifted, state board members voted to lift the suspension of his certificate at a special meeting in October, pending a revocation hearing.

Akins 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. The students were between 13 and 17 years old at the time of the alleged incidents.

Bunch and Pitts are defendants in a federal lawsuit against Ninnekah Schools, former school employees and Friend Public Schools, the district Akins worked for prior to Ninnekah. With 15 former high school girls basketball players as plaintiffs, the lawsuit alleges that administrators should have known about the abuse.

The Ninnekah Public Schools Board of Education voted to suspend Bunch and Pitts at a meeting in August.

Thursday’s meeting was the State Board of Education’s first since Hofmeister announced earlier this month that she will be running for governor in 2022. Board member William Flanagan was not present for the day’s meeting, and board member Estella Hernandez left the meeting prior to executive session.

Western Heights heading back to court

While no action was taken regarding Western Heights following Thursday’s executive session, the district is currently scheduled to be back in Oklahoma County District Court on Nov. 8 and 9 when Judge Aletia Timmons will preside over the district’s motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the State Department of Education, the state board and Hofmeister.

In August, Timmons ruled that Western Heights must acknowledge the authority of the state board, which voted to take control of the troubled district at a meeting in July. Western Heights legal counsel Jerry Colclazier attempted to challenge that decision before the Oklahoma State Supreme Court, but the court declined to hear the case in September.

Western Heights’ motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction was initially filed in Oklahoma County District Court on July 8. The request asks the court to prohibit OSDE and the state board from taking any further adverse actions against Western Heights or former superintendent Mannix Barnes, to vacate the summary suspension of Barnes’ educator certificate and to return all rights and interests afforded to Barnes prior to his suspension.

Barnes had his educator certificate suspended by the state board at a meeting in June.