Tulsa schools’ violation cited in legal challenge to HB 1775 | Education

The State Board of Education’s decision to downgrade Tulsa Public Schools’ accreditation over an implicit bias training session is now being cited in a federal lawsuit challenging a state law meant to limit instruction on subjects related to race and gender.

In a supplemental submission filed Monday with the Oklahoma City-based US District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law argue that the repercussions the Tulsa district has faced are examples of how the law is vague and can be used to stifle protected speech.

The cite both the decision of the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s General Counsel’s Office to classify an August 2021 professional development session on implicit bias as a violation of House Bill 1775 and the Oklahoma State Board of Education’s subsequent vote to penalize TPS’ accreditation because of that .

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“In short, the only thing that is clear or straightforward about the Act, as the board and OSDE’s actions confirm, is the message it sends to school districts and teachers: Steer clear of any discussion of race or bias that could possibly be interpreted as causing offense or risk losing your accreditation status or teaching licenses,” the filing states.

Filed in October, the lawsuit claims that HB 1775 violates both the First and 14th amendments, is unconstitutionally vague, overbroad and racially discriminatory, and has had a chilling effect on lesson plans. Along with an injunction to block the law’s enforcement, the suit seeks to have HB 1775 declared unconstitutional.

In the suit, the attorneys noted that several school districts have removed multiple books by women and minority authors from their curriculum for fear of running afoul of the law, including Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” and Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.”

The lawsuit also claims that school districts have told teachers to avoid certain discussion topics and phrases, including “white privilege” and “diversity,” in their classes in order to comply with the new law.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Tulsa Public Schools is not a party to the litigation, and the published draft agenda for Monday’s regular school board meeting does not include any references to it. A spokeswoman did not respond by deadline as to whether the district is considering joining the lawsuit.

Along with the Oklahoma State Conference of the NAACP, the plaintiffs include two public school teachers from Edmond and Oklahoma City Millwood, a high school student, the Black Emergency Response Team at the University of Oklahoma, and chapters of the American Indian Movement and the American Association of University Professors on behalf of their members, who are either teachers or parents of students currently attending an Oklahoma educational institution.

In Monday’s filing, the attorneys noted that both AIM and the NAACP have members who are affiliated with Tulsa Public Schools as teachers, parents and students.

Named defendants include State Attorney General John O’Connor, Gov. Kevin Stitt, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, members of the State Board of Education, members of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, members of the Board of Regents for the University of Oklahoma, Edmond Public Schools Superintendent Angela Grunewald and members of the Edmond Public Schools Board of Education.

As of the close of business Tuesday, no hearings had been scheduled on the matter.

Passed in 2021, HB 1775 bans teaching that one race or gender is inherently superior. It also prohibits causing a student to feel guilty or uncomfortable because of their race or gender, as well as teaching that anyone is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or otherwise.

The text of the measure does not include the phrase “critical race theory.” However, many have construed its provisions as a ban on the concept, which argues that many key pillars of American society have been shaped in ways to benefit whites at the expense of minorities, including the judicial system and the economy.

TPS came under scrutiny after a science teacher from Memorial High School filed a written complaint with the State Department of Education in February, claiming that an implicit bias professional development course had a section that “includes statements that specifically shame white people for past offenses in history , and state that all are implicitly racially biased by nature.”

The training session’s slides and audio, reviewed by the Tulsa World, refer to implicit bias as a universal, widespread phenomenon and state that education and other systems were originally built for populations that “are vastly different than those that attend our schools today.”

Tulsa was one of two districts statewide to be accredited with a warning in July due to a violation of HB 1775. The other district, Mustang Public Schools, self-reported an investigation and violation after the board’s June 23 meeting, prompting the Oklahoma State Department of Education originally to recommend that it be accredited with one deficiency.

In a footnote, the attorneys noted that they did not include Mustang in Monday’s filing due to a lack of information about the circumstances leading up to the determination that the Oklahoma City-area district violated the law. However, the footnote also mentions that the attorneys have an open records request pending for additional information on the matter.

Featured video: Tulsa Public Schools accredited with a warning over HB 1775 violation: See the full Oklahoma State Board of Education discussion and vote


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