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Tulsa Public Schools punishment for alleged CRT violation being used to challenge law

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Tulsa Public School (KTUL)

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The punishment given to Tulsa Public Schools for allegedly violating critical race theory is being used to challenge HB 1775, according to supplemental documents filed in federal court on Monday.

The documents are being added to a federal lawsuit originally filed in October 2021 challenging HB 1775, which severely restricts public school teachers and students from learning and talking about race and gender in the classroom.

The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Oklahoma, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and pro bono counsel Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP on behalf of public school teachers and students who are members of various organizations.

Thirty defendants are listed in the lawsuit, including State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, Attorney General John O'Connor, and Gov. Kevin Stitt.

The documents included the original complaint made in February 2022 by a Memorial High teacher, the response to the complaint from the Oklahoma State Department of Education, as well as a letter written by TPS superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist on August 5.

In the letter, Gist asked the board who voted 4-2 to lower TPS' accreditation status to "accredited with warning" to reconsider the decision.

"The accreditation downgrade Tulsa received based upon an alleged violation of HB1775 is -- by any definition -- arbitrary and capricious," wrote Gist.

"It's just the latest evidence of how this law is censoring speech in schools," said David Hinojosa, the director of the Educational Opportunities Project for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the non-profits representing the plaintiffs. "Essentially, what the state has done is drawn a line in the sand on a windy day because teachers don't know whether or not they're standing on this side of the line, and complying or whether, you know, the next second someone's own subjective opinion, will say, 'no, you're actually crossing the line."'

Hinojosa hopes the documents are enough proof for a judge to side with them.

"We think this is definitely the tipping point that will show and prove that the state is violating students' and teachers' rights," he said.

O'Connor's office told NewsChannel 8 they don't comment on pending litigation.

NewsChannel 8 asked TPS if they planned on joining the lawsuit, and they provided the following answer.

We aren't in a position to discuss any future litigation plans but appreciate the attention that the ACLU has brought to the recent decision made by the state board.

The next step with the lawsuit is for a decision from the federal court.


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