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Courtesy of the Black Wall Street Times

“Truancy should be handled in the schools not on the sidewalk with police involved.” — Burlinda Radney 

Article Highlights  

  • Tulsa Public Schools data indicates that 31 percent of truant students are economically disadvantaged. 
  • 25 percent of Tulsa Public School students were marked truant during the 2017 and 2018 school year
  • Truancy fines harshly range from $25 — $500
  • Ordinance allows the arrest of minors by Tulsa Police Officers
  • Communities of color feel that the ordinance targets them 

By Nehemiah D. Frank

TULSA, Okla. — In the state of Oklahoma, the commodity is terrifyingly Black and Brown bodies. Its jails and prisons embarrassingly burst at the seams while an intoxicating spirit of apathy socially pervades the political landscape. A pandemic ideology of lockup detrimentally thrashes and economically injures its poverty-stricken citizens and marginalized-constituents. Oklahoma is the prison capital of the world. It incarcerates more citizens per capita than other place on Earth.

To make matters worst,  Tulsa City Council Karen Gilbert proposes a truancy ordinance that contributes to the chaos and controversy of mass incarceration. If her ordinance passes at the next Tulsa City council meeting, set Wednesday, October 24, it will inevitably expand Oklahomans school-to-prison pipeline. Despite community efforts to stop the councilors purposed ordinance, Gilbert remains apathetic towards their concerns. Notably, the voice of the concerned are from Tulsa’s Black and Latinx community. 

Community Concerns

It is a fact that a debtors’ prison and police-profit practices are undeniably and widely performed in the City of Tulsa. Poorer citizens and communities of color are undoubtedly seeming targeted and are affected the most for such heinous political suppression and financial exploitation.

According to an Oklahoma Policy report, “When they [poor people] fail to pay, a warrant is issued for their arrest, and they may spend several days in jail for the crime of being too poor,” which would ultimately hurt low-income Tulsans who are most likely to  experience truancy. 

Who will Gilbert’s ordinance affect?  

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A study conducted by John Hopkins University in 2012 found that chronic absenteeism or truancy “occurs at rates three to four times higher in high-poverty areas”. Essentially, Gilbert’s ordinance to all appearances targets poor citizens who are mostly Black and Brown. 

The data below limelights the extreme economic disparities between Tulsa’s racial cohorts, indicating that White Tulsans are at the top, and Black and Lantinx Tulsans are at the bottom, which is the source of  communities frustrations. 

The only remedy to end truancy situates in finding the cure for generational poverty in the city of Tulsa, which is seemingly tantamount to climbing Mt. Everest but is not an impossible task to muster. 

The Tulsa’s equality indicator rated the city a score of 38.93 out of 100 in 2018, an F rating. Moreover, the report found that Whites earned a median households income of $51,053 annually, Latinx’s $37,512, Native Americans $37,022, and Blacks a median household income of $28,399. The Black Tulsan median household income is $22,654 less than White Tulsans.

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Courtesy of Tulsa Public Schools 

Tulsa Public Schools data indicates that 31 percent of truant students are economically disadvantaged. Black TPS students are the second highest chronic absentee group just behind Native Indians. 1 in 4 Black students in Oklahoma live at or below the poverty line. According to the U.S. Census report, 29.1 percent of Black Oklahomans are living in poverty. 

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Courtesy of Talk Poverty 

Factors related to absenteeism

poor conditions or lack of school facilities, low-quality teachers, teacher shortages, poor student-teacher interactions, geographic access to school, less challenging courses and student boredom

Teenage motherhood, low academic performance and repeating grades, lack of caring relationships with adults , negative peer influence, bullying

low family income, low parent involvement, unstable housing, at-home responsibilities, stressful family events conflicting home and school priorities, language differences

availability of job opportunities that do not require formal schooling, unsafe neighborhoods, low compulsory education requirements, lack of social and education support services

(see Bookings Institute article for more information)

Unemployment and Racial Bias Correlation to Truancy 

The Black unemployment rate may be down across the nation but in Tulsa the unemployment rate is higher than the national average. Families with truant students may find paying the fines burdensome. 

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The Tulsa inequality indicator reports that Black Tulsan adolescents are over three times as likely to be arrested than their White counter parts. Meaning Councilor Gilbert’s truancy ordinance will widen the gap indicated in the inequality indicator report. The indicator score is currently 33 out of 100, also an F. 

Read more of Councilor Karen Gilbert’s purposed truancy ordinance here.

The Black Wall Street Times encourages citizens from across the city to join us and others at Tulsa City Hall, Wednesday, October 24, 2018, at 4:30 pm. We will let Karen Gilbert and the Tulsa City Council know that Tulsans disapprove of this harmful ordinance and will urge them to vote no on locking poor families up. 


Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder and executive editor of The Black Wall Street Times. He graduated from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Oklahoma State University. A rising voice in America and an emerging leader in the education reform movement, Nehemiah frequently travels for speaking engagements around the country, is a blogger for Education Post, and has been featured on NBC as well as in Blavity and Tulsa People. Nehemiah is also a teacher at Sankofa School of the Performing Arts in Tulsa, OK, a 2017 Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, and a 2018 Oluko Fellow. He gave a TED Talk at The University of Tulsa in the spring of 2018. Nehemiah has recently been appointed to the Community Advisory Board at the Tulsa World. 

The Black Wall Street Times is a news publication located in Tulsa, Okla. and Atlanta, Ga. At The BWSTimes, we focus on elevating the stories of our beloved Greenwood community, elevating the stories of...