gender record changes
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters, right, stands with newly appointed State Board of Education member Zach Archer before he was sworn onto the board Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. (Bennett Brinkman)

In a meeting that included 15 minutes of coordinated public comments about chromosomes, gametes and other biological concepts related to perceptions of the gender binary, Oklahoma State Board of Education members denied requests for record changes to reflect two students’ gender identities and suspended the teaching certificate of a former Wetumka teacher and coach.

The record change request denials come after state board members’ controversial decision last month to approve an emergency rule requiring school districts to receive permission from the board before they change references in their records to reflect a student’s gender identity.

In today’s cases, two students in Cushing and Moore public schools each were said to have already obtained court orders from judges allowing them to change their gender designation on official documents. Records from neither court case are available online, although NonDoc downloaded a copy of the Cleveland County court order for the Moore Public Schools student before it was sealed.

The case number listed on Thursday’s meeting agenda for the Payne County court order does not appear to be connected to any existing case, according to Payne County Court Clerk employees.

Oklahoma State Department of Education general counsel Bryan Cleveland said the emergency rule passed in September was needed as a result of the court order authorizing the Moore Public Schools student to change their gender designation.

Cleveland and Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters both criticized the judges’ orders during the meeting.

“I believe we’ve got to continue to stand in line — stand in the way, I will say — of these radical, leftist, Biden judges that are sitting here trying to dictate this to our schools,” Walters told board members.

Cleveland suggested that the judges’ actions could be illegal and implied that they could be working together with other groups.

“The one from Payne County is interesting because it’s virtually a copy-paste of the text of the order from Cleveland County, which indicates to me that these sort of ex parte gender orders are being coordinated somewhere centrally, or there’s a network of affiliated people that are copy-pasting them intentionally, which I find curious,” Cleveland said.

Board members revoke teacher certification, hire new counsel

After a 30-minute executive session, board members voted to suspend the educator certificate of Wetumka community leader Brent McGee.

Although no charges have been filed against McGee, he has been accused of molesting at least one child over the course of his career as a teacher, coach, city councilman and mayor.

Former Noble Public Schools student Casey Yochum, 49, spoke during the public comment section of the meeting to share his allegations of abuse.

“I was molested by Brent McGee for years,” Yochum said. “He starts grooming these kids at 13, 14 years old.”

Walters said the board’s suspension of McGee’s teaching certification stemmed from reports given to OSDE.

“There were reports that were given to the agency that we dealt with in executive session and looked over,” Walters told reporters after the meeting. “Safety of our kids is always going to be a top priority for us.”

Board members also hired a new attorney to represent them after the executive session.

Before the vote to hire her, Cara Nicklas of the Edmond law firm McAlister, McAlister & Nicklas took questions from board members and stressed her litigation experience.

“I’m familiar with having to represent clients who are in the news,” Nicklas said.

Nicklas will take the position vacated by Travis Jett, who had been the board’s attorney before leaving the role after Walters took office. In an effort to avoid conflicts of interest, boards that govern agencies often consider it a best practice to have a separate attorney from an agency’s general counsel.

Biology lesson, Tulsa update presented to board

state board of education meeting
Garrett Coulson used a visual aid to give a biology lesson making the case for the existence of trans people during the public comments section of a State Board of Education meeting on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. (Bennett Brinkman)

In accordance with the conditions of Tulsa Public Schools’ accreditation status, board members heard an update from the district during Thursday’s meeting.

Officials with TPS — including interim Superintendent Ebony Johnson, chief strategy and innovation officer Kathy Dodd, interim chief learning officer Erin Armstrong and director of data strategy Jonathan McIlroy — presented on the district’s implementation of science of reading-based practices in its literacy instruction.

“Students’ success, of course, is our ultimate goal, and the work that we do pushes for student success,” Johnson told board members. “All the work is grounded in the science of reading.”

Walters and other board members praised district leaderships for their efforts to improve the district, but Walters also stressed his oft-repeated refrain.

“You are walking us through thought processes here, and it sounds really good, but we want to see the results. And so again, you know, when I’ve mentioned before not testing me and not having the district test me — what I mean by that is we want to see students successful,” Walters said. “And I’ve been very open about — I will do anything in my power to make sure Tulsa Public Schools is successful. There is nothing off limits for what I will do ensure that that happens.”

During the public comments section of the meeting, four people used their consecutive turns to give board members a 15-minute biology lesson making the case for the existence of transgender people, ostensibly to show their support for the two transgender students who wanted to change their student records.

While one person stood with a visual aid for each of the segments, the people discussed reproductive processes at the cellular level and chromosomes to make their case. When the board’s four-minute timer went off at the end of each speaker’s time, the next presenter picked up the lesson and continued.

Board members did not comment on the presentation, but much of the audience watching the meeting cheered each presenter.

“Not every individual is going to fit into that perfect definition of a word that we make up to describe a generalization,” said Garrett Coulson, the first presenter.

Coulson then held his large ream of paper for the next three presenters as they continued the biology discussion.

“It shouldn’t matter to you if a child is brown, black, white, male, female, trans, Christian, Muslim because first of all, we have equal rights under the law — 14th Amendment. Secondly, as a Christian, we believe that all people were made by God and matter,” the second presenter said before picking up where Coulson left off. “What’s most interesting about the SRY gene doesn’t actually make you a male either. Everyone has the genes to produce both testes and ovaries.”

Lori Tuggle, a former Putnam City Public Schools Board candidate who has alleged that sex clubs exist at the district’s locations, pushed back on the four presenters’ biology discussion and said she has lived under a “Marxist” regime in Belarus.

“You saw our pretty little biology presentation,” Tuggle said. “One of the Marxist plans to manipulate and control people is to make the individual nondescript, interchangeable where men can be women and women can be men. You could be a gorilla, you could be a dinosaur, you could be whatever you want as long as you do as we say. And the people who are used in this way are the first ones to be murdered when communism comes.”

Thursday’s meeting was the first for Zach Archer, a financial advisor and investor from Hammond. Archer is still listed on the Hammond Public Schools website as the vice president of the district’s board of education, although he must step down from that board to serve on the state board.

Gov. Kevin Stitt appointed Archer and foreign policy consultant Alex Gray to the board Oct. 20. Gray did not attend Thursday’s meeting and has not yet been sworn into his seat on the board.