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Statewide rules would ban DEI spending in Oklahoma schools, tie academics to accreditation

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Statewide rules would ban DEI spending in Oklahoma schools, tie academics to accreditation

Feb 26, 2024 | 6:29 am ET
By Nuria Martinez-Keel
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Statewide rules would ban DEI spending in Oklahoma schools, tie academics to accreditation
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Oklahoma State Department of Education general counsel Bryan Cleveland speaks to the Oklahoma State Board of Education during an August meeting in Oklahoma City. The board approved 15 new administrative rules Thursday on a litany of topics, including teacher conduct and diversity programs. (Photo by Brent Fuchs/For Oklahoma Voice)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Under a litany of new rules the state approved Thursday, Oklahoma public schools no longer would be able to spend state funds on diversity, equity and inclusion programs, and students’ test scores would count toward their school district’s accreditation status.

The Oklahoma State Board of Education unanimously passed 15 new administrative rules touching on a variety of topics. 

The rules now advance to the state Legislature and Gov. Kevin Stitt for review. They do not take effect until either lawmakers or the governor approve them.

Among them is a measure to ban public schools from spending state funds on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

Ryan Walters announces plan to ban diversity, inclusion efforts in K-12 schools

The rule follows a Dec. 13 executive order from Stitt that prohibits state agencies from using funds for DEI programs “to the extent they grant preferential treatment based on one person’s particular race, color, sex, ethnicity, or national origin over another’s.”

That applies to state aid funds that flow from the Oklahoma State Department of Education to public schools, said Bryan Cleveland, the agency’s general counsel.

Before the board voted on the rule, State Superintendent Ryan Walters commended the governor for signing the order. 

“I applaud the governor for his (executive order),” Walters said. “I’ve talked about DEI being very destructive in our schools, in our institutions.”

Walters also proposed a new rule to tie academic performance to each district’s accreditation rating, which the state Board of Education decides annually as an accountability measure for schools.

School districts that have more than 50% of their students scoring below a basic performance level in state tests for reading or math would receive an academic deficiency. That deficiency would worsen in the following years if the district fails to show at least 5% improvement.

Walters said this already should have been part of accreditation reviews to promote a “results-oriented approach.”

“We have an accreditation system that doesn’t say anything about how kids are performing or getting goals on that,” Walters said “We have sent a message that that hasn’t been of the utmost importance to our districts.”

Although test scores weren’t part of a district’s accreditation, each school’s academic performance is published annually in the Oklahoma State Report Cards.

The board also created a new status of “accredited with distinction,” representing districts that have no deficiencies and the highest-level recommendation.

Other rules focused on teacher conduct. 

Statewide rules would ban DEI spending in Oklahoma schools, tie academics to accreditation
State Superintendent Ryan Walters consults Oklahoma State Department of Education general counsel Bryan Cleveland during an Aug. 24 meeting of the Oklahoma State Board of Education in Oklahoma City. (Photo by Brent Fuchs/For Oklahoma Voice)

Teachers under investigation for a felony or for revocation of their educator certificate must be put on administrative leave, should the rules take effect. 

Educators could be fired if they engage in sexual acts or acts that “excessively promote sexuality” in front of a minor or make these demonstrations available to minors online.

Other new rules add a mandatory daily minute of silence in schools to the state Department of Education’s administrative code. This requirement is already in state law in order for students to reflect, pray, meditate or engage in another silent activity.

The state board also approved a rule establishing “foundational values” for the agency.

These values include multiple references to “the Creator” as the author of universal, self-evident truths and the one who bestowed ultimate authority over children’s education to their parents. 

They also declare truth, goodness and beauty as objective moral virtues and good and evil as “real and universal rather than relativistic concepts.”

Some of the feedback the agency received through public comment complained the rule is overtly religious and demonstrates a preference for the Christian faith, according to agency documents.

“The agency respectfully disagrees with the commenters,” documents state. “The Department should be grounded in historical understandings of education when performing its work.”

The board agreed to revoke automatic approval of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association to give school board member training. OSSBA would have to apply for approval each year.

But to get that approval, Walters said OSSBA will have to “quit being a woke, left-wing association.”

OSSBA is a nonpartisan organization. The vast majority of Oklahoma school board members choose to participate in OSSBA workshops and training that cover an abundance of topics, including school finance, open meetings laws, ethics and more.

“Requiring pre-approval from (the state Education Department) serves no good purpose but could make it more difficult for school board members to access timely, relevant continuing education,” the organization’s legal department wrote in a letter to the agency. “We believe that would negatively affect locally elected board members and the children they serve.”