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Libs of TikTok scrutiny puts unwanted national spotlight on Oklahoma schools

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Libs of TikTok scrutiny puts unwanted national spotlight on Oklahoma schools

Oct 03, 2023 | 6:30 am ET
By Carmen Forman
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Libs of TikTok scrutiny puts unwanted national spotlight on Oklahoma schools
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Superintendent Ryan Walters has said the creator of the Libs of TikTok social media account has "done more for transparency and accountability in schools than most elected officeholders." (Photo illustration by Oklahoma Voice)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Some Oklahomans are concerned a right-wing social media account run by an out-of-state conservative figure is politicizing Oklahoma schools, harming districts, educators and students in the process.

As Libs of TikTok has taken a growing interest in Oklahoma schools, some parents are questioning Superintendent Ryan Walters’ decision to back the account that has millions of followers and often makes anti-LGBTQ posts.

One parent whose local school district faced bomb threats after being mentioned on Libs of TikTok accused Walters of aligning himself with the social media account to try and raise his profile on the national stage.

Libs of TikTok has posted about an elementary school librarian in Tulsa, identified a Western Heights Public Schools principal as a drag performer and accused various Oklahoma school districts of having “pornographic” books in their libraries.

“If you’re going to sexualize kids and introduce really inappropriate subjects in school, I’m going to call it out,” Libs of TikTok creator Chaya Raichik told Oklahoma Voice.

Western Heights Public Schools and Union Public Schools faced bomb threats in recent months after the account tweeted about district educators.

Walters met with Raichik when she visited Oklahoma last month. In a social media post, he credited her for having “done more for transparency and accountability in schools than most elected officeholders.”

Walters spokesperson Dan Isett referred questions about Libs of TikTok’s posts to its creator. He added that Walters has gotten numerous calls from parents who have expressed concerns that some of the educators featured in Libs of TikTok social media posts are working in Oklahoma schools.

The account is putting its own spin on information to rile people up, said Western Heights parent Amy Boone.

“She’s obviously one of those ultra-right-wing conservatives,” Boone said. “I don’t really care what your politics are, but when you start putting things out on the internet that endangers our kids, I have a problem with that.”

The district was thrust into the national spotlight after Raichik posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, about how John Glenn Elementary Principal Shane Murnan is a drag performer who read to children at a drag queen story hour at a public library.

Raichik also posted that Murnan was charged with child pornography possession, although she didn’t mention that a judge dismissed the case and the 2001 charge was expunged. Murnan has said the charge was related to a “bias against gay educators.”

Oklahoma City Police confirmed Western Heights and Murnan recently received emailed bomb threats, however none were determined to be credible.

Raichik defended her social media posts in an interview following a recent Western Heights school board meeting.

“Teaching kids about gender ideology is more hateful than anything I’ve ever said or done or posted,” she said.

In a series of national television interviews, Walters has criticized Western Heights’ decision to hire Murnan. He also launched an investigation into the district, accusing Western Heights of a “failure to act within the law to protect students.”

Boone said Walters is cozying up to the Libs of TikTok account in an attempt to grow his base of conservative supporters.

“Anything that will get him likes and shares and on Fox News or Newsmax, that’s what he’s going to do,” she said.

In August, Union Public Schools faced multiple days of bomb threats after Libs of TikTok posted an altered version of a satirical video from a district librarian about pushing a “woke agenda” in public schools.

The account shared a version of the video that left out the librarian’s caption about how her “woke agenda” is teaching kids to love books and be kind.

Walters reposted Libs of TikTok’s social media post, citing the Union librarian as an example that “woke ideology is real.”

Isett, Walters’ spokesperson, has rejected the idea that the superintendent’s post contributed to the bomb threats. He also noted Libs of TikTok is sharing photos and videos educators have already posted on the internet.

“I cannot vouch for every tweet from Libs of TikTok,” Isett said. “I’m not going to be put in that position.

“As far as I’m aware, everything that’s been pushed out by that account or others that have had concerns about that particular librarian or the situation at Western Heights have all been pulled from their own social media accounts.”

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Jaime Rogers, whose daughter is a freshman in Union Public Schools, said she left messages with Walters’ office asking him to take down his tweet.

“I don’t feel like he wished those threats upon any of our students, but I do feel like he was responsible for sharing the Libs of TikTok information that did not have all the accurate information,” she said.

Rogers said she tries to assume everyone has the best intentions.

The account is trying to bring awareness to things happening in schools and urging parents to take an active role in their children’s education, she said.

“I don’t necessarily disagree with everything that Libs of TikTok does,” Rogers said. “I always look for the positive intent in what anybody’s doing, and I do feel like they have a positive intent.”

But if the social media account is intentionally skewing content to mislead its followers, that raises ethical concerns, she added.

In the past, Libs of TikTok has also called out Oklahoma school districts for allegedly having copies of LGBTQ graphic novels “Flamer” and “Gender Queer,” which include some graphic drawings.

The social media account also posted last year about an Owasso teacher who left the district over concerns about a TikTok video in which he told students he was proud of them, and said: “If your parents don’t accept you for who you are this Christmas, f— them. I’m your parents now.”

Oklahoma Education Association President Katherine Bishop said it’s concerning to see Walters’ relationship with the account result in out-of-state social media personalities zeroing in on local districts.

“It’s disheartening to see that,” she said. “Now, those people are coming into our state, attending school board meetings and pressing a radical agenda.”

Staff writer Nuria Martinez-Keel contributed to this report.