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HB 1775
State Board of Education members hold their regular meeting on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (Megan Prather)

Two complaints alleging violations of HB 1775, which bans the teaching of certain concepts about race and gender in Oklahoma public schools, were received by the State Department of Education between September and December.

During today’s State Board of Education meeting, the general counsel for the Board of Education, Brad Clark, said the complaints came from Tulsa and Talequah Public Schools and have been dismissed by the OSDE.

Administrative rules approved by the state board regarding HB 1775 require the OSDE to provide a quarterly report to the board on complaints it has received. Local school districts have been required to adopt policies and procedures to abide by the rules and are required to submit any complaints to the OSDE within 30 days.

“In the first complaint that was filed, the allegation was that the local board of education had not adopted a policy as required by the administrative rules. The second portion of that complaint alleged a violation of the Open Records Act,” Clark said. “What we found on that first complaint was that there wasn’t a violation. In fact, there’s a policy manual in this district that addresses, in full, the requirements of 1775.”

Clark said the second complaint was about a specific quiz given in a seventh grade geography class. The quiz has since been pulled by the district.

“The department found there was not a violation of 1775. In fact, the email that came to us really never specified 1775, but identified some of those concepts, so we brought it in as a complaint under 1775 to address it,” Clark said. “There were 41 questions across the quiz about taxes. It was comprehensive in nature.”

Clark said OSDE questioned the appropriateness of the quiz for other reasons.

“We didn’t see a violation of the provisions HB 1775 but did question why that subject was being brought up in a geography class,” Clark said.

During Thursday’s meeting, board members¬†approved emergency rules regarding SB 783, known as the Education Open Transfer Act, which was passed last year and requires school districts to accept transfer students, if there is an opening, regardless of the student’s residency or the time of year. Districts are also required to list their enrollment capacities online.

“The (Education Open Transfer) act itself was amended quite substantially last legislative session, and the proposed set of rules brings the administrative code language into compliance and alignment with the Legislature,” Clark said. “The second portion is an emergency rule request to adopt processes and procedures to streamline appeals where applications for student transfer have been denied.”

During the meeting, board member Brian Bobek asked whether any additional staff had been hired to assist in the implementation of HB 1775 and SB 783.

“We haven’t seen a need for that at this point, but it may come up,” Clark said.

Recommendations for Western Heights

Board members also heard from Clark regarding recommendations for Western Heights Public Schools in the areas of finance, human capital and support for students and families as the district’s new interim superintendent, Brayden Savage, prepares to take on the leadership role.

The state board voted to take control of Western Heights in July 2021 and had expressed the “utmost concern” about operations at the school district. The past six months of the state’s intervention included the appointment of interim superintendent Monty Guthrie, who will be officially leaving the district at the end of the month.

“Now that we’ve had time to get into the paperwork and documents, we would recommend that Ms. Savage and the district bring on a chief financial officer,” Clark said. “Someone that’s very experienced and dedicated to handling the district finances.”

Clark’s financial recommendations for the district also include retaining an internal auditor, conducting a review of internal controls and establishing a board finance committee.

“Did the school district not have an internal auditor prior to this?” board member Jennifer Monies asked during the meeting.

“No,” Clark responded.

In regard to human capital, Clark’s suggestions include:

  • aligning compensation with the market;
  • investing in human resources capacities for recruitment and retention;
  • retaining communications services;
  • decentralizing administrative responsibilities;
  • improving working conditions and facilities.

Recommendations to improve support for students and families include:

  • focusing on in-person options for students;
  • retaining additional graduation and career counselors;
  • retaining licensed professional counselors and social workers;
  • continuing professional development for counselors and social workers;
  • developing mentorships for students;
  • bolstering transportation services;
  • retaining a director of extended learning;
  • retaining additional bilingual staff and interpreters;
  • building up the alternative education program and increasing its staffing.

“Unfortunately, one of the two individuals working in the alternative education program at Western Heights passed away in the last few weeks, so there’s obviously a need to bring additional human capital on board,” Clark said. “We also know that the former superintendent in the prior school year did not identify any students as in need of alternative education, which results in lack of funding to the district.

Clark told the board that, according to email records, former Superintendent Mannix Barnes was working to eliminate the alternative education program and put it fully online as a remediation service, a plan that has since been halted.

Savage told NonDoc after the meeting that she believes rallying people together and retaining good staff are among the district’s greatest needs.

“We all know that the biggest difference you can make in a child’s education is who their teacher is,” Savage said “We need to make sure we’re retaining good teachers and bringing in talented teachers.”

During the meeting, Savage said she wants the students of Western Heights to have the same opportunities that were provided for her daughter, a 2011 Western Heights graduate and valedictorian who went on to earn multiple degrees and currently works for Boeing.

“I want that for all the kids at Western Heights. Right now, it’s just heartbreaking, all of the things that have happened,” Savage said. “There’s a lot, and I know I can’t fix everything all at once. I can’t fix it all by myself. I need a team of good people in order for us to work all together. But my strength is building relationships and bringing people together, and I think that community really needs that.”