Education , Culture & the Family

Oklahoma school staff hired despite sex-crime allegations

Ray Carter | September 8, 2023

Less than a month into the new school year, parents at two Oklahoma public schools have been shocked to learn local staff have been hired despite prior convictions or serious allegations of sex crimes involving children.

In the Western Heights district in the Oklahoma City area, Shane Murnan has been hired as head principal at John Glenn Elementary. In 2001, Murnan was charged with possession of child pornography.

Murnan’s background was first highlighted by V1SUT Vantage.

In 2001, the Tulsa World reported on Murnan’s arrest, writing that an affidavit for a search warrant revealed that four images “of adolescent white males performing sex acts with each other” had been recovered from Murnan’s computer by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

The affidavit for a search warrant said police had been contacted by two individuals, including one who said Murnan made concerning comments about two 10-year-old boys. A second informant told police that Murnan had previously described receiving photos of a boy being sexually abused by an adult male.

At his trial, Murnan’s defense attorney argued the state had not proven that the pictures were of underage males and argued the pictures could have been computer generated. The defense also argued that since the images had been deleted on Murnan’s computer, he did not have possession of pornography.

A lengthy legal process ensued and Murnan was never convicted. The charges were eventually expunged.

Murnan also performs as a drag queen under the stage name Shantel Mandalay.

In June 2021, performing in drag, Murnan read children a story about a bear that identified as a rabbit as part of a program offered by the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Library System.

The V1SUT Vantage reported that an additional criminal probable cause filing targeted Murnan again in 2020, although few details have been made public.

In a June 12 Facebook post, officials at Western Heights downplayed Murnan’s past, stating, “Recently, the district has been made aware of previous charges that were dismissed more than 20 years ago.”

The post then described Murnan in glowing terms.

“Dr. Murnan has been serving the field of education for more than 25 years and has an outstanding reputation,” the Western Heights’ post stated. “He comes highly recommended from previous supervisors, colleagues, and educators. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education, a Masters of Education in Educational Administration, and a Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership and Administration. We welcome Dr. Murnan to Western Heights, and we are very excited about his vision for John Glenn and the community.”

The school’s Facebook posted on Murnan’s hiring ended with the hashtag, “#SoaringToNewHeights.”

The V1SUT Vantage has since reported that Western Heights has also hired Paul Caplan Stafford as a kindergarten classroom paraprofessional and that Stafford is also a drag queen performer who goes by the stage name Carmen Deveraux.

A similar scenario played out in Woodward Public Schools.

Earlier this year, Woodward officials hired Mark Ward as the high school baseball coach and assistant athletic director. Ward resigned after parents objected to the fact that Ward had pleaded no contest in 1998 to charges that he fondled a 15-year-old student while working in the Vici district.

According to news reports at the time, a high school freshman told police Ward placed his hand in her pants and touched her genital area. Ward faced charges of rape by instrumentation, with an alternative charge of lewd molestation, but was allowed to plead no contest to a reduced charge of sexual battery.

Under the plea agreement, Ward paid a $100 fine, spent two weekends in the county jail, and was barred from employment in public schools for two years.

Following public outcry and Ward’s resignation, officials at Woodward Public Schools posted a message on Facebook stating that Ward’s resignation “results from the continual social media and community objections to the events from the 1990s.” Similar to the post by Western Heights officials, the post by Woodward school officials did not note the specific allegations and charges filed against Ward in the 1990s.

The Woodward schools’ statement also declared, “The Woodward Public Schools Administration followed the same background checks that every school district employee in Oklahoma must pass. Ward holds a valid teacher certification from the state. He worked for three school districts before coming to Woodward and also passed reference checks from his previous employers.”

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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