Education, Law & Principles
Department of Education says Tulsa schools violated CRT ban
June 23, 2022
The Tulsa Public Schools district is poised to become the first district in Oklahoma sanctioned for violating a state law that bans schools from incorporating concepts associated with Critical Race Theory into school settings.
House Bill 1775, which was signed into law in 2021, made it illegal to teach Oklahoma students that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” or that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
The legislation also banned teaching that “an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex,” or teaching students that “meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race.”
The permanent rules that guide implementation of the law, which were previously approved by the State Board of Education, apply HB 1775’s prohibitions not only to classroom instruction but also to training sessions, seminars, and professional-development programs for school staff. The regulations also bar school districts from contracting with entities that provide services or training that violates HB 1775.
At the June meeting of the State Board of Education, Brad Clark, general counsel for the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE), informed board members that the agency had received a complaint alleging a staff training in the Tulsa district violated HB 1775. After an investigation, agency officials determined that was the case.
“We did conclude there was a violation of House Bill 1775,” Clark said.
Clark said staff obtained training materials, including an audio portion, before making their determination.
He said OSDE staff believed “the spirit of that training, or the design of it, was contradictory” to the requirements of HB 1775.
Under state regulations, schools found to have violated HB 1775 can have their accreditation status downgraded to “accredited with deficiency.” Districts have one year to correct the problem before facing further sanctions, which can eventually include loss of accreditation.
Clark said the state board will be asked to vote on the Tulsa violation at the group’s July meeting.
In 2021, Tulsa Public Schools provided a staff training titled “Changing the Discourse,” offered by the National Equity Project. On its website, the National Equity Project encourages officials “to acknowledge and make meaning of the historical and ongoing impacts of racism and white supremacy.” The project’s statement of beliefs also declares that public systems, including public schools, “maintain inequity by design” and that inequity was “not created by accident.”
In 2020, one Tulsa Public Schools staff training, using material produced by the Education Justice Research and Organizing Collaborative (EJ-ROC) at the New York University Metro Center, informed staff they should incorporate “social justice” material throughout all subjects taught in school. For example, staff were encouraged to require science students to study “environmental racism and what effects it has had at the local, national and international levels” and discuss “misogyny and racism in STEM fields and how to counter it.”
Clark did not identify the Tulsa training program that violated HB 1775 or discuss its content.
Officials with Oklahoma’s largest teacher union have tacitly indicated they believe districts may require teachers to violate HB 1775.
When the Oklahoma State Department of Education solicited public comment during the agency’s permanent rulemaking process for HB 1775, Heath Merchen, an attorney for the OEA, was among those submitting comments. On Feb. 1, Merchen wrote that he was speaking “on behalf of the Oklahoma Education Association to propose an addition” to the agency’s HB 1775 regulations “for the purpose of protecting teachers from litigation that may follow implementation of the rule if School Districts are non-compliant and require teachers to instruct in a manner that could violate the standard.”
Merchen said the OEA wanted the HB 1775 regulations to include language stating, “No individual teacher or school employee shall be found in violation of this provision, or face any form of discipline, retaliation, or other adverse consequence due to an alleged violation of this provision if the teacher or school employee is teaching the curriculum approved by their employing school district, notwithstanding that the employing school district may be found to have violated this provision.”