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Tulsa Public Schools superintendent Deborah Gist along with Board of Education President Suzanne Schreiber and Vice President Cindy Decker sent what some are calling an “unprecedented” letter to members of the city council regarding the controversial truancy ordinance.
The letter is nearly two pages long and asks the council to “put the ordinance on hold and take further time to work with Tulsa-area school districts, community organizations, and other key stakeholders… to support families and keep students on track.”
In an interview with the Black Wall Street Times, Board President Schreiber pointed to the gravity of the moment, stating “during my time on the board, we have taken public stances on issues that affect our kids… this letter is an example of that.”
According to district officials, Superintendent Gist also spent time on the phone with city councilors expressing her concerns about the truancy ordinance.
In the letter, received by the Black Wall Street Times, the district leaders cite the disparities in chronic absenteeism along racial and socioeconomic lines. Citing a commitment to equity as a chief driver behind their concern, the district leaders say “this ordinance will disproportionately target both our economically disadvantaged families and our families of color.”
Proponents of the ordinance have stated that the punitive measures are offset by by the opportunity for families to engage in “therapeutic court”. In its statement, however, the district leaders pushed back on this notion, stating “the proposed ordinance creates a new entry point into the criminal justice system for our most vulnerable children and families.”
The letter goes on to assert that the ordinance would actually have the unintended consequence of making the issue of truancy in Tulsa worse, stating that “an ordinance that creates this level of monetary penalty would exacerbate family instability, creating conditions where students are more likely to miss school.”
Many opponents of the ordinance have vocalized their concerns that the proposal would only serve to further promote issues of inequality in the city, rather than resolve them. The letter to councilors seems to indicate that the district superintendent and president and vice president of the board of education share these concerns.
“We both know that our beloved city has a long way to go to begin to unravel and resolve centuries of systemic racism, and an ordinance that reinforces racial and socioeconomic disparities is a step in the wrong direction.”
Schreiber reiterated this point, stating that the ordinance, as proposed “does not support our core value of equity and will negatively impact our families” and doesn’t align with the Board’s “shared goal of building a great city”.
The leaders call on council members to lean more on education experts in their development of a new proposal and offer to work alongside them to develop a “shared-approach” to the issue of truancy, focused on positive, asset based solutions rather than punitive measures.
The ordinance was pulled from the agenda on Monday, but per council rule can be brought back for a vote as late as five minutes before the start of the regularly scheduled meeting at 5PM on Wednesday. Community activists plan to organize at city hall ahead of the scheduled meeting.
Full letter: Tulsa Public Schools – Truancy Ordinance Letter to City Council