Ray Carter | August 26, 2021

Education agency botches anti-racism regulations

Ray Carter

Due to bureaucratic incompetence, Oklahoma State Department of Education regulations that enforce a state ban on teaching concepts associated with Critical Race Theory in Oklahoma schools have been withdrawn and now provide only “guidance,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister announced during the Aug. 26 meeting of the State Board of Education.

As a result, schools are effectively free to ignore the new law until the board again approves new regulations. The delay means districts may be able to enter into contracts with outside providers for training or other materials and services that violate the provisions of the law.

“We learned yesterday that for technical reasons we will need to revote on the rules for House Bill 1775,” Hofmeister said. “There were technical errors in the draft rules.”

She blamed the unspecified “scrivener’s errors” on a “rushed and unorthodox process” even though the agency had months to work on the regulations. HB 1775 was signed into law on May 7 and the State Board of Education did not vote on associated rules until July 12, more than 60 days later.

The law took effect on July 1, as is typical of many bills approved each year by the Legislature. Without regulatory enforcement it will have little effect.

House Bill 1775 banned Oklahoma’s K-12 schools from teaching several concepts associated with Critical Race Theory, including that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex,” that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive,” or that individuals “should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex.”

One of the authors of that law, state Sen. David Bullard, criticized the agency for not addressing the problem promptly. Bullard said the problem was identified with sufficient time to schedule a vote on corrected regulations on the August agenda of the State Board of Education.

“I was disappointed they didn’t hear it today, and I don’t know why they didn’t hear it today,” said Bullard, R-Durant. “They’ve had these since the first of July, the first few weeks of July, and why this is just now something they’re catching is beyond me.”

As chair of the state board, Hofmeister sets the group’s agenda.

Bullard said it is “imperative” that the board approve the corrected regulations before Sept. 1 so enforcement will not be further delayed.

Hofmeister did not commit to action on any specific date and only stated that the second vote on HB 1775 regulations would occur at a future special meeting of the State Board of Education.

The now-withdrawn regulations prohibited segregated classes, programs, training sessions, extracurricular activities, or affinity groups unless such groups are permitted by federal law. Under the regulations, parents and legal guardians had the right “to inspect curriculum, instructional materials, classroom assignments, and lesson plans to ensure compliance” with HB 1775.

In addition, the regulations required schools to develop a complaint process with a 90-day response time for investigation.

The regulations barred schools from contracting with outside entities to conduct programs that include material banned by HB 1775 and also prohibited the State Department of Education from applying for grants that violated HB 1775. Schools were also prohibited “from adopting diversity, equity, or inclusion plans that incorporate the concepts” barred by HB 1775.

Under the now-suspended regulations, school districts that failed to comply with HB 1775 could have had their annual accreditation status downgraded and failure to address shortcomings for two years in a row could have resulted in loss of accreditation, leading to closure or annexation.

Teachers who violated HB 1775 faced the loss of a teaching certificate under the regulations.

The inability of Oklahoma State Department of Education staff to properly draft HB 1775 regulations is only the latest in a string of similar problems at the agency under Hofmeister’s leadership.

The agency previously produced regulations for the Lindsey Nicole Henry (LNH) Scholarships for Students with Disabilities program that were determined to be illegal. The LNH program covers the cost of private school tuition for children with special needs and foster children.

The regulations produced by Hofmeister’s staff barred private Christian schools from serving LNH recipients if the schools adhered to historic Christian teachings on sexual relations or required teachers to be professing Christians.

While the Office of the Attorney General provided the agency with a memo advising that officials had acted illegally in adopting those regulations, no changes were made and the department removed that memo from public view on its website.

The agency did not relent until the Office of the Attorney General issued a formal opinion declaring that the agency acted illegally and misinterpreted “both federal law and the statute authorizing the Henry Program.”

Hofmeister’s staff drafted the illegal LNH regulations in 2019, nine years after the program was created.

In addition, a 2020 state audit of Epic Charter Schools found that the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s financial review processes amounted to little more than paperwork requirement that did not provide effective oversight of spending in Oklahoma’s public schools. The audit found the Oklahoma State Department of Education has “no process in place to evaluate actual compliance with the written policies and procedures, or with applicable laws, statutes, or Administrative Rules” that govern the use of taxpayer funds.

Those findings led 22 state lawmakers to request an investigative audit of the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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