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Ryan Walters Bible
Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters listens during a meeting of the Oklahoma State Board of Education on Thursday, June 27, 2024. (Megan Prather)

Today’s marathon meeting of the State Board of Education featured a new directive requiring the Bible to be included in Oklahoma classrooms as a historical document, the denial of a state senator’s attempt to enter an executive session and the revocation of a controversial Kingfisher football coach’s teaching certificate on the same day a district court judge declined to bind him over for trial on a felony child neglect charge.

At the start of a nearly four-hour executive session where board members discussed potential revocation and suspension decisions for multiple teaching certificates, the board’s legal counsel denied Sen. Mary Boren entry despite Open Meetings Act provisions that allow certain legislators to attend for observation.

A member of the Senate Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Education, Boren (D-Norman) had been particularly interested in discussions about the teaching certificate of former Norman High School educator Summer Boismier, whom Walters has criticized since his 2022 political campaign when she posted a QR code in her classroom allowing students to access banned books.

“Observation is the basic tenant of accountability to ensure state officials uphold the Constitution of the United States and of Oklahoma in their proceedings,” Boren said in texted remarks following the decision. “Given the highly authoritarian approach of the State [Board of Education] to crush the rights of parents, teachers and readers, it is warranted that a state senator observe executive session.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters told reporters after the meeting that the denial of Boren from the executive session was a “pretty open and shut” decision.

“It was a pretty clear attorney-client privilege issue there. They walked her through it multiple times,” Walters said. “She didn’t want to hear it.”

Boren told NonDoc that she would be “talking to lawyers about what my options are to enforce (the) Open Meetings Act.”

“(The) attorney for the board claimed that all activities on the agenda would have been fact-finding and adjudicatory in nature and permitting me to observe would disrupt the attorney-client relationship,” Boren said.

Ryan Walters Bible requirement draws lawsuit hint

When the day’s meeting began, Walters used his opening remarks to announce that the Oklahoma State Department of Education will be requiring classrooms around the state to contain a Bible as a historical document.

In his directive to Oklahoma public school superintendents — with the state’s congressional delegation carbon copied — Walters said schools in the state will be  required to incorporate the Bible “as an instructional support into the curriculum” across 5th through 12th grades.

“Additionally, the State Department of Education may supply teaching materials for the Bible, as permissible, to ensure uniformity in delivery,” Walters wrote. “Adherence to this mandate is compulsory. Further instructions for monitoring and reporting on this implementation for the [2024-2025] school year will be forthcoming.”

Asked after the meeting what translation of the Bible would be required under his directive, Walters had no immediate answer.

“That’s something we’re working on with the teams and the districts right now. For us, it’s just important that they understand that the document [in] its historical context. So that’s making sure the kids at these grade levels can understand the stories,” Walters said. “This is where we look at this very closely as what’s applicable for every grade level. We’re going to be announcing some more specificity around what stories are included when, and that will come later.”

The announcement, which came one day after the state Supreme Court said a proposed Catholic charter school violated the Oklahoma Constitution’s prohibition on public money going to religious institutions, immediately drew rebuke.

Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa) called Walters’ directive “an attack on the separation of church and state.” He also called Walters “an unpopular, unprepared and failed leader trying to use God as a political cover.”

“My grandfather was a pastor, my great grandfather was a pastor,” Nichols said. “Both taught me about the importance of faith and the role it plays in all of our lives. “They also taught me to beware of false prophets as warned about in Matthew 7:15.”

Walters, however, called the Bible “an indispensable historical and cultural touchstone.”

“Without basic knowledge of it, Oklahoma students are unable to properly contextualize the foundation of our nation which is why Oklahoma educational standards provide for its instruction,” Walters said in a press release. “This is not merely an educational directive, but a crucial step in ensuring our students grasp core values and historical context of our country.”

The CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State released a statement Thursday calling Walters’ directive “textbook Christian nationalism.”

“Walters is abusing the power of his public office to impose his religious beliefs on everyone else’s children. Not on our watch. Americans United is ready to step in and protect all Oklahoma public school children and their families from constitutional violations of their religious freedom. It won’t be the first time: We’re already facing Walters and other state officials in court to stop the nation’s first religious public charter school,” Rachel Laser said. “Christian nationalism is on the march across this country. It’s not just happening in Oklahoma; we’re seeing it from Texas to West Virginia, from Florida to Idaho. Just this week we filed a lawsuit with our allies to stop Louisiana from requiring public schools to display the Ten Commandments — something legislators in other states, including Oklahoma, have also proposed.”

Boismier hearing could extend past certificate expiration

Norman teacher's resignation
When students entered Summer Boismier’s English class at Norman High School on Friday, Aug. 19, 2022, all the books were covered with paper that said, “Books the state doesn’t want you to read.” (Provided)

Despite his pious politics, Walters has been unable to turn the other cheek regarding Summer Boismier, even after she withdrew from the teaching professional and moved to New York to work at a library.

For more than a year, Walters has continued to criticize Boismier’s 2022 classroom decision to provide students access to a QR code for what she called “books the state doesn’t want you to read,” even as her abandoned teaching certificate is set to expire Sunday.

Boismier’s certificate again appeared on the State Board of Education’s agenda Thursday, with members voting unanimously after their executive session to reject an administrative hearing officer’s finding that the state had failed to meet its burden of proof to revoke her certificate.

Instead, state board member Katie Quebedeaux said the board’s counsel will be directed to present findings of fact and conclusions of law at their next meeting, which is likely to occur after Boismier’s certificate expires anyway.

“It was very clear, this teacher violated the teacher code of conduct,” Walters said after the meeting. “It’s pretty open and shut here that that teacher should not be continuing in the state of Oklahoma. We’ve heard from parents all over the state. They don’t want indoctrination in their schools, they want to make sure teachers are obeying law. The Legislature has overwhelmingly passed legislation around this. For us, it was very straight forward that this was a violation.”

Boismier resigned just days into the 2022-2023 school year after making headlines for covering her classroom display of books with red paper on which she had written, “Books the state doesn’t want you to read.” Boismier also posted a QR code in her classroom that linked to the Books Unbanned webpage of the Brooklyn Public Library.

The display was an apparent response to a new NPS policy requiring all teachers to review their personal classroom libraries to make sure the books didn’t violate House Bill 1775, Oklahoma’s purported ban on “critical race theory.” Sections of that law were recently invalidated by a federal judge.

Walters, who was still campaigning for state superintendent at the time, called for Boismier’s certification to be revoked and initiated proceedings to do so after he took office. At the time, Walters made numerous social media posts and other comments about Boismier, leading her to sue him for defamation.

In January, board members had set the revocation hearing for their March meeting. At that meeting, they agreed to delay it until Thursday.

After the incident in Norman, Boismier moved to New York. She does not appear to have made an effort to renew her Oklahoma certificate. On Wednesday, Boismier posted about Thursday’s potential action on Twitter and again posted a link to the Books Unbanned webpage.

On Thursday morning, Boren sent an email to the board’s legal counsel declaring intent to use her legislative power to observe the executive session. After being excluded from the session, Boren said failure to comply with the Open Meetings Act invites judicial scrutiny of the board.

“(I’m) disappointed but not surprised that the State Board of Education conveniently interpreted Open Meetings Act to exclude me in my official capacity as a state senator from their executive session,” Boren said.

Embattled Kingfisher coach has teaching certificate suspended

kingfisher case
Kingfisher head football coach Jeff Myers walks onto the field to join his team after halftime of a game at Weatherford High School on Friday, Sept. 1, 2023. (Bennett Brinkman)

On the same day that he was in Kingfisher County District Court for a preliminary hearing on a felony child neglect charge, former Kingfisher High School head football coach Jeff Myers had his teaching certificate suspended during Thursday’s State Board of Education meeting.

While Myers prevailed in court after a judge said prosecutors had failed to establish probable cause that a crime had been committed and that he was responsible for that crime, State Board of Education members voted unanimously to suspend his teaching certificate.

Myers has been the central figure in a high-profile federal hazing lawsuit that has torn Kingfisher apart. Myers and former assistant coach Micah Nall — who was also charged with felony child neglect and perjury in October — have been accused of fostering a pernicious culture of abuse within Kingfisher Public Schools’ football program.

Days before it was set to go to trial, the federal lawsuit filed by former KPS football player Mason Mecklenburg was settled in December for $5 million, a figure expected to raise local property taxes significantly because KPS allowed its insurance policy to lapse amid market issues in Oklahoma.

As part of the settlement agreement in the lawsuit, Kingfisher Public Schools agreed to bar Myers from coaching any sport in the district. Myers has been on leave from teaching since he was charged in October.

Nall waived his preliminary hearing Thursday and is set for arraignment next week. He left KPS in 2021 while pleading to a related charge for his actions at a Kingfisher football practice, and he and took a job at Western Heights Public Schools with additional roles as the district’s “football analyst.” Nall has been on leave since he was charged, and he voluntarily surrendered his teaching certificate to the board Thursday.

Justin Mecklenburg, the father of former Kingfisher football player at the center of the Myers scandal, said he was pleased with the board’s decision to suspend Myers.

“Coach Myers neglected his duty to protect the safety of students at Kingfisher Public Schools and today’s decision is a reflection of those failures,” Mecklenburg said. “As a parent, you expect that your child will be safe from harm under the supervision of adult teachers and coaches. Our son, Mason, along with many other student athletes, endured years of hazing, physical and verbal abuse, and instances of sexual assault under the supervision of Coach Myers. We are hopeful that today’s action will prevent future students from enduring the pain and torture our son experienced.”

Justin Mecklenburg, who has launched a website about his child’s case called The Dark Side of Friday Night Lights, is the son of former Kingfisher City Attorney Randy Mecklenburg.

During Thursday’s preliminary hearing for Myers, Randy Mecklenburg was ejected from the courtroom for whispering. Myers’ attorney, Joe White, alleged that Mecklenburg had said “bullshit” when responding to the allegation of whispering from the gallery.

Randy Mecklenburg denied using the curse word, although he said after the day’s hearing that he should not have engaged with Myers’ attorney.

12 other teaching certificates suspended, 1 revoked

In other decisions involving legal matters, State Board of Education members also issued teaching certificate suspensions Thursday for:

  • Kanyen Cole, a former Miami teacher who was charged in May with sexual battery and soliciting sexual conduct from a minor;
  • Russell Fincher, a Tuskahoma man who pleaded guilty in May to a federal firearms offense;
  • Solan Harrison, a former elementary school educator in Moore who was indicted by a federal grand jury June 17 on one charge of abusive sexual contact against a minor under age 12. Harrison died nine days later, one day prior to the State Board of Education meeting;
  • Shawna Kathrein, a former Guthrie High School teacher who was charged in 2022 with engaging in sexual communication with a minor;
  • James Pahcoddy, a former Anadarko Public Schools teacher who was charged in May with eight counts of sexual battery. (Court records identify him as “Jim Pahcoddy”);
  • Rhonda Turley, an Elk City Public Schools employee who received a three-year deferred sentence after pleading no contest to one count of conspiracy in 2023 for improperly housing her son, who was a registered sex offender; and
  • Russell Ray Bailey, a former Rattan Middle School teacher who faces an assault and battery charge upon a student;
  • Amanda Bristow/Adams, who allegedly gave sleeping medication to elementary school kids and then failed in her attempt to change her legal name when she did not show up for a hearing in Logan County District Court;
  • Toya Edwards/Benton, a former Oklahoma City Public Schools teacher who was arrested in May 2021 for public drunkenness and assault. Edwards filed a protective order against her boyfriend, Justin Hansbro, a week later. Five months later, Hansbro was arrested and charged with incident or lewd acts with a minor, although the charges were ultimately dismissed;
  • Essence Fields, an Owasso fourth-grade teacher facing a first-degree murder charge in the shooting death of her romantic partner;
  • Brandi Price, the former superintendent of Mannsville Public Schools who resigned in February after pleading guilty to public intoxication; and
  • Travis Sloat, a former Okay High School teacher who pleaded not guilty in February to a lewd molestation charge after he was accused of recording his daughter’s friend in the bathroom.

Additionally, board members revoked the teacher certificate of Stacy Lynn Jones Dimarco, who was charged in 2022 with violating a child custody order and obstructing an officer.

Board members reinstated the certificates of Kacy Katibeh and Erin Overton, who had been suspended for “breach of contract with Glenpool Public Schools” in January.

Finally, board members accepted the voluntary surrender of teacher certificates for Nall and Rhonda Carlile.

Meeting held one week after LOFT reports on OSDE

A 2024 Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency report details the Oklahoma State Department of Education budget breakdown since 2019. (Screenshot)

Thursday’s meeting also came one week after Walters met with lawmakers on the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency Oversight Committee to discuss the findings of two reports the office recently released.

The two LOFT reports examined federal grant funding in OSDE and the state’s student testing process. While not an investigation into wrongdoing, LOFT staff gave lawmakers an overview of federal education funding and examined OSDE’s compliance with a law passed last year prohibiting the department from declining to pursue grants it had already received.

According to the report, federal funding made up slightly more than 17 percent of OSDE funding in Fiscal Year 2024, and the vast majority of that comes from non-competitive, formula grants such as child nutrition grants, which make up most of OSDE’s formula grants.

In FY 2024, federal competitive grants for certain projects or initiatives made up just 0.21 percent of OSDE’s budget. Since 2019, federal competitive grants have made up less than one percent of OSDE’s budget, according to the report.

The LOFT report outlined changes Walters made to the competitive grant process when he took office.

“The new criteria also specified that ‘grants with requirements that do not align with Oklahoma values will not be considered,'” staffers noted in the report. “The new guidance for how OSDE pursues federal funding opportunities may have affected the number of competitive grant opportunities pursued by the department.”

Since Walters has led the department, OSDE has been awarded one competitive grant, a five-year Pathways to Partnership Grant Project to help individuals with disabilities.

Additionally, OSDE has applied for one other grant to increase the number of mental health providers in schools, and it plans to apply for two other grants to fund literacy development initiatives and school safety initiatives.

The report also noted two competitive grants OSDE ended before they were set to expire: the Ready2Learn grant, part of a broader STOP School Violence grant program which paid for school safety threat assessments.

OSDE had to return unused funds for both grants but did not have to repay any money it had already expended. At the June 20 LOFT Oversight Committee meeting, OSDE chief academic officer Todd Loftin attempted to explain to lawmakers why the department did not complete the grant programs.

“The issue we had (…) is that some people working on grants just left and didn’t leave great records for us to look back through. So we’ve spent a lot of time trying to locate things,” Loftin said. “Quite frankly, some people would leave and not leave a lot of great information behind.”

LOFT staffers also noted that Walters and OSDE were in compliance with Senate Bill 36X. The budget-limits bill, passed in 2023, prohibited OSDE from declining to pursue federal grants it had previously received.

(Update: This article was updated Friday, July 19, to include additional information about Solan Harrison.)