Western Heights ruling
Western Heights Board of Education members and Superintendent Bradyn Savage converse before a board meeting on Monday, Aug. 8, 2022. (Bennett Brinkman)

The Oklahoma Supreme Court today unanimously affirmed an Oklahoma County District Court ruling that approved the State Department of Education’s takeover of the troubled Western Heights School District in July 2021. The district’s governing board, led by controversial President Robert Everman, had challenged the legality of OSDE’s action.

In his 51-page opinion, embedded below, Justice James Edmondson denied the request by the board and suspended Superintendent Mannix Barnes to stop the state’s takeover of the southwest Oklahoma City district, which included a change to the district’s accreditation probation status after the identification of multiple financial and administrative deficiencies.

“We hold [that Barnes] failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits of his claim that a due process violation occurred, or a likelihood of success on the merits of his claim that his administrative remedy was inadequate, and failed to show he was entitled to a preliminary injunction,” Edmondson wrote. “We hold the school district failed to show likelihood of success on the merits on a claim the state board lacked authority to place the school district on probation with a condition requiring an interim superintendent, and failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits of a claim the school district was entitled to an administrative individual proceeding prior to the school district being placed on probation, and (the) school district failed to show it was entitled to a preliminary injunction.”

While the ruling does not change how Western Heights will operate this school year, it does support subsequent State Board of Education actions and employment decisions regarding the district.

“Today is another victory for the children, parents and members of the Western Heights community,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister said in a statement. “We appreciate the District Court and Supreme Court for affirming the state’s authority to be responsive to the school district community and hold accountable those in charge.”

OSDE has been trying to hold Everman and Barnes accountable for school problems for months, resulting in separate court battles. The department has filed litigation against Everman to remove him from his role as president of the Western Heights Board of Education. For Barnes, the department suspended him with pay in 2021 and is still pursuing a motion to revoke his superintendent certificate.

“Unfortunately, rather than working with the OSDE and state board to implement corrective action, ousted Superintendent Mannix Barnes and Board President Robert Everman have decided to needlessly litigate the state’s supervision and oversight of the school district,” Hofmeister said in her statement. “Their obstruction and efforts to enrich a few adults will undoubtedly end, but we again call on them to do the right thing for children and taxpayers and immediately step down.”

Everman and Barnes have a lengthy and bizarre relationship, dating to long before they became involved in running Western Heights. Both men have faced a stream of criticism from Western Heights community members, who have echoed Hofmeister’s calls for Everman and other board members to resign.

At the district’s August board meeting, parents in the district called members a “disgrace” after an audit was presented which found 13 deficiencies in the district’s finances.

At a meeting last September, community members also shouted at the board when Everman attempted to post his own meeting agenda, which differed from the newly-appointed interim superintendent’s agenda.

The next Western Heights Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 10.

Read the full Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling

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