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2014 school board elections start quietly in Oklahoma
By Alex Schaffer
Oklahoma school districts will host the first statewide school board elections of 2014. The 13 largest school districts in Oklahoma are holding elections for 16 seats on February 11, 2014. A total of 20 candidates are vying for 16 seats in 13 districts, with one seat on the Union Public Schools board to be appointed by the district's other board members. Districts within the state are experiencing a variety of issues ranging from Common Core implementation backlash to concerns over the implementation of new technology. These districts are also facing challenges such as tight budgets, overcrowding and natural disaster relief.
Two of the districts, Union Public Schools and Owasso Public Schools, have experienced significant problems dealing with religious freedom. In 2000, Union Public Schools suspended high school student Brandi Blackbear for allegedly casting a hex that caused a teacher to fall ill. In response, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a $10 million lawsuit against the district on her behalf, stating that casting a spell was not sufficient grounds for suspension. Former Assistant Principal Charlie Bushyhead and the district alleged that Blackbear had been suspended for "disturbing the education process," for which she had received previous suspensions prior to this incident. The ACLU and Blackbear eventually dropped the lawsuit. In 2011, a group named Owasso Kids For Christ sued Owasso Public Schools for allegedly censoring their right to exercise their faith. The lawsuit came after the group distributed flyers with their slogan "One Dream, One Vision, Reaching the World for Christ!" attached. The district requested that the group cease distribution in accordance with their discriminatory behavior policy. The group reached a settlement with the district for $20,000 in legal fees, and as a result, the district altered their policy so flyers are no longer distributed to parents from any organization.
Spotlight: Oklahoma City Public Schools
Oklahoma City Public Schools is facing significant administrative upheaval after Interim Superintendent Dave Lopez announced on January 14, 2014 that at least ten school administrators would be removed from their positions. This announcement came in the wake of a November, 2013 report by the Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction that found students in 65 out of 93 district schools achieved worse test scores than in previous years. Lopez also announced that at least 100 district officials would be placed in schools in order to stimulate improvement within the district. School board members Lynne Hardin and Bob Hammack have expressed their approval for the reorganization.
Union Public Schools
- All Things Crime, "Oklahoma High School Student Suspended for ‘Casting a Spell’?" January 12, 2014
- ACLU, "ACLU of Oklahoma Files Federal Lawsuit on Behalf of Student Accused of "Hexing" a Teacher," October 26, 2000
- Fox23, "Christian group sues Owasso School District," October 25, 2011
- Daily Kos, "Owasso Kids For Christ" Sues Owasso Public Schools," October 25, 2011
- Fox23, "Settlement reached in lawsuit against Owasso Public Schools," April 4, 2012
- The Oklahoman, "Some Oklahoma City school administrators face termination, superintendent says," January 13, 2014