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GREENWOOD Dist.–As Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters prepares for a possible state takeover of Tulsa Public Schools, Ana Barros, a history teacher at one of the city’s best performing schools, is leading the fight to maintain local control of TPS.

A year after downgrading the accreditation of TPS over a racial diversity training exercise for teachers, Walters has continued his campaign of contempt for the single most racially diverse district in the state.

Walters has threatened to remove the leadership of TPS or even dissolve the district entirely at a vote during the upcoming State Board of Education meeting on August 24.

“Tulsa Public Schools has been plagued with scandal. They are one of the worst performing schools in Oklahoma,” Walters said. “What we have seen is a district that has failed the students. They failed the parents and they failed the teachers there. We are looking at all possible actions with this district to ensure that all state laws, all rules are being upheld by that district in a way that benefits those kids.

Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters. (Associated Press/Sue Ogrocki)

His reasons for singling out TPS include: accusing the district of teaching White students to feel uncomfortable, accusing district superintendent Deborah Gist of poor leadership, the district’s abysmal reading scores (even though other districts have similar or worse scores) and accusing the district of not adequately allowing moments of silence for religious students.

“I think the biggest fear here is to receive a decision without having been brought to the table at all. There are 33,000 students [in TPS] and their families who have not once had the opportunity to engage with their elected [state] superintendent on what a potential way forward should be,” history teacher Ana Barros told The Black Wall Street Times.

Determined to Protect TPS

As a popular history and social studies teacher at Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences, Barros has led the creation of a grassroots movement called Protect TPS. In a matter of days, the group has already garnered nearly 4,000 signatures demanding Walters and the State Board stop their expected takeover of the district. To view the petition, click here.

Ana Barros. (Photo courtesy of Teach For America Greater Tulsa)

Parents, teachers and students fear Tulsa’s public education system will suffer the same fate as Houston Independent School District, which was recently taken over by Texas. Their local leadership was dissolved, and some of their libraries will be turned into makeshift disciplinary centers, according to HISD.

“Nobody is saying TPS is perfect. As a teacher of color from two different schools, I know for a fact there is so much to be done,” Barros said.

Yet she believes the solution should be for the state to work with the community. Ironically, the same politicians who balk at government overreach appear determined to take over or eliminate TPS.

“Our goal is for the Aug 24 meeting to yield a result that leaves Tulsa Public Schools, families and [local] elected officials still in charge of our district,” Barros said.

Dissolving TPS would disproportionately impact students of color

Even as Walters faces an FBI investigation over alleged misuse of federal funds meant for education purposes, and as the state legislature continues to grill him on whether he’s accepted federal grants for the upcoming school year, the former history teacher-turned far-right pundit has used his taxpayer-funded position to promote religion in schools while denouncing the teaching of systemic racism.

While he originally threatened to further downgrade TPS, he’s since put out the possibility of completely dissolving the district, which would force students to be funneled into already overcrowded neighboring districts.

“TPS is majority-Black and brown, 80 percent are low income. We have historical trauma, historical wounds in our communities, and so much of those wounds are carried forth in school already,” Barros told The Black Wall St. Times.

“So the Black and brown community has been trying to hold our district leadership accountable. And it’s deeply frustrating to see all that work fall to the side because we are trying to fight to even have schools in the first place.”

Barros said she felt appalled that Walters would manipulate data and facts for political reasons, but she remains hopeful that support for TPS will grow ahead of the Aug. 24 meeting.

Students push back

Meanwhile, students from TPS have decided to use their Saturday to engage the community. A group of students will conduct a student-led town hall at the University of Tulsa’s Collins College of Business inside Helmerich Hall from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, August 19 to make their voices heard. The event is expected to see students engage with state leaders ahead of the Aug. 24 vote on TPS accreditation.

“As these students have learned more about the growing threat of the downgrade or loss of accreditation for TPS, they immediately wanted to ensure their peers were informed as well and had the opportunity to make their questions and concerns known to those with the power to make such a critical decision, a press release from Protect TPS states.

Ultimately, a State Superintendent who at first told Oklahomans the Tulsa Race Massacre wasn’t about race, will now lead in deciding the fate of the future of Tulsa Public Schools.

“Already the momentum we’ve built in less than a week shows there are champions for public education, teachers, parents, kids,” Barros said. “And that you don’t need to lose hope. Whatever the outcome is here we’ve got plans in place for what comes next.”

To view the Protect TPS website, visit

Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has...

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