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While Tulsa Public Schools was accused of violating Oklahoma’s anti-Critical Race Theory (CRT) law, HB 1775, during a teacher training program, audio provided to The Tulsa World showed the alleged violation was an instructor reading verbatim from visual slides. The teacher training program included an 18-minute discussion of implicit bias in the classroom.

TPS’ accreditation was downgraded to accreditation with deficiencies following a complaint from a local teacher, who claimed the training violated HB 1775. The teacher training presentation was provided by a third-party vendor for TPS teachers. 

The program included the following information: 

  • Acknowledging that implicit biases can bring about uncomfortable feelings and expose unwanted or unintentional negative beliefs. 
  • Asking teachers to be aware of their own racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds and how they affect their perceptions. 
  • Asking teachers to review students’ academic and behavioral data for gaps by race, socioeconomic status and gender.
  • Explaining the difference between fact and opinion while avoiding imposing personal values in the classroom.

State targets Tulsa Public Schools over CRT

Following the teacher training, TPS was accused of violating state law. HB 1775, signed into law by Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt in 2021, includes provisions that teachers may not suggest an individual is inherently racist, whether consciously or unconsciously, among other considerations in teaching about history, social studies, and global movements. 

The teacher in question who claimed TPS violated HB 1775 stated that the training made White individuals feel discomfort on account of their race. Meanwhile, at a school board meeting regarding TPS’ accreditation, information on the training was not made public.  

Oklahoma Department of Education rules state that a school in violation of HB 1775 must include a deficiency in accreditation. TPS was eventually accredited, but with one deficiency. 

Some at the board meeting objected to the accreditation with deficiency – due to the training program not being made available or public. The crux of the deficiency, therefore, is hung by the claims of one teacher – a woman who has been investigated for telling a student they would burn in hell

According to State Representative Regina Goodwin of Tulsa, “As serious as this is, if you do this for just one teacher, and it’s not legitimate, then Lord help us.” She continued, “if you’re saying the law was violated, identify. Show me where that is. Just do that portion and send it to me.”

Oklahoma one of seven states with bans on CRT

Meanwhile, according to Oklahoma State Department of Education Executive Director of Communications Rob Crissinger, “While the OSDE stands by its conclusion that the training presentation violated House Bill 1775, it is clear that the audio recording, which was reviewed weeks after review of the slide-deck, had a greater impact on the agency’s review team. The concepts put forth, regardless of whether read or heard, violated the spirit of that law.”

Oklahoma is just one of seven states to ban teaching CRT in schools. The concept is a college-level theory that isn’t taught in K-12 schools. 15 other states have possible ban bills moving through their legislative processes.   

Tulsa Public Schools superintendent Deborah Gist found the downgrade in TPS accreditation both harmful and arbitrary. “It is clear the OSDE erred in this determination because — from the beginning of the training video to the end — the written language on the slides and the words heard in the audio are identical. Stated another way, because the OSDE found that there was no violation of HB 1775 in the slides, it is factually impossible for the audio to be unlawful.”

Gist continued, “While it is frustrating that the state department misconstrued the message in the training and also heard audio that is no different from the words on the slides, it is entirely unacceptable for such a misunderstanding to be the basis for its issuance of an accreditation deficiency of any kind. It is even more egregious and outrageous for the State Board of Education to take the additional step of escalating the penalty to an accreditation warning without having seen or heard any of the training or even request the ability to view it.”

While The Tulsa World was permitted to listen to the audio, journalists were not allowed to receive a copy of the information, and could only take notes on the material presented.  However, the audio was found to be identical to the slide deck in question. 

Tulsa Public Schools students return to class on August 18. 

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...