Ray Carter | July 27, 2023

Tulsa schools could face accreditation downgrade

Ray Carter

Members of the State Board of Education opted to take no action on Tulsa Public Schools’ accreditation during the group’s July meeting, which leaves Tulsa’s current accreditation level the same.

But State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters indicated there are significant problems in the Tulsa district that could lead to the school having its accreditation downgraded when the state board meets again in August.

Citing “ongoing, significant, and severe issues going on with that district,” Walters said delaying action on Tulsa’s accreditation until August will allow officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) the time to thoroughly review alleged problems.

“Tulsa Public Schools has been plagued with scandal,” Walters said. “They’ve been one of the worst-performing schools in the state of Oklahoma.”

There are essentially five levels of state accreditation for public schools. The best rating is accreditation with no deficiencies, followed in descending order by accredited with deficiencies, accredited with warning, accredited with probation, and nonaccredited.

There is no reduction in state funding to school districts until they lose accreditation.

In 2022, the Oklahoma State Department of Education concluded that Tulsa Public Schools violated House Bill 1775, which was signed into law in 2021. That law 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 apply HB 1775’s prohibitions not only to classroom instruction, but also to training sessions, seminars, and professional-development programs for school staff. Tulsa’s violation of HB 1775 was tied to a staff training that OSDE officials said violated the law.

As a result, Tulsa Public Schools’ accreditation was reduced to “accredited with deficiency” at that time.

Based on Walters’ comments during the State Board of Education’s July meeting, officials believe Tulsa school officials may have since failed to comply with regulations other than HB 1775.

“I believe with the severity of the issues at Tulsa Public Schools, as we’re looking into the misreporting that went on there, when we look around the embezzlement issue that went on there as well, I feel like we need to be able to dig into these issues because of the severe nature and the impact it’s having on those kids in that district, the staff in that district,” Walters said.

Earlier this year, court documents filed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation alleged that Devin Fletcher, a former Tulsa Public Schools administrator, and his family members misspent hundreds of thousands of school dollars.

Members of the State Board of Education approved the accreditation recommendations submitted by agency staff for other schools. Of the more than 500 public-school districts in Oklahoma, OSDE staff recommended that 143 be accredited with one deficiency and 65 be accredited with multiple deficiencies.

However, Walters noted Tulsa, which is among the two largest districts in the state, is not the typical school.

“We haven’t encountered something of this size with another district,” Walters said.

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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