Norman High School teacher leaves over HB1775
A Norman High School (NHS) teacher resigned on Aug. 22 following a complaint related to Oklahoma House Bill 1775. Summer Boismier began her second year of teaching at NHS on Aug. 19. By the end of the first day of school, she received an HB1775 complaint.
Boismier was instructed on that day that she would need to meet with Assistant Superintendent Holly Nevels at the district office on Monday, but says she was not given other details about the meeting. Boismier asked questions regarding the complaint and the meeting, but those questions “were not immediately answered.” She said that though she was not explicitly told what the complaint was filed over, it is easy to conclude that it had something to do with her class library. Over the weekend, she asked for the meeting to be pushed back, at which time she was informed that she was on administrative leave.
“I was told that I was not to come to school,” Boismier said.
The following Tuesday, Boismier, along with her Oklahoma Education Association representative, met with Milner, as well as Principal Hallie Wright of NHS. Norman Public Schools (NPS) offered Boismier her job back, which would have taken effect Aug. 24, but after thinking about the offer, she decided it would be best to resign.
HB1775, which was signed into law by Governor Kevin Stitt in May 2021, regulates the type of content that is permitted to be taught in public schools. This bill particularly deals with content related to race, gender, and sexual diversity. During her first year at NHS, Boismier ignored the legislation, saying, “I personally think HB1775 is an unjust law. It’s poorly written, which I also think is intentional, but it’s unjust, and I had no intent to follow it.”
In late July 2022, Tulsa Public Schools and Mustang Public Schools were both penalized for HB1775 complaints against the districts. The two school districts were downgraded in accreditation, which affects the funding of schools, and an appeal to the state board ended with a continuation of this penalty.
“It seemed like the message the state board was sending was ‘any allegation of a potential violation is subject to a massive consequence for the entire school district’,” Boismier said of the changed atmosphere at NPS.
Shortly before the 2022-23 school year, teachers were told to “exercise extreme discretion.”
Teachers at Norman High School were given two choices with regard to their classroom libraries: they could either close the libraries to students or they could pull the books they thought would be a challenge and justify the presence of the rest as “instructional materials.”
Boismier, for whom 2022-23 would have been the ninth year of teaching, had never heard the books in classroom libraries referred to as instructional materials. Rather than remove the books from her class library, Boismier covered them with red butcher paper, on which she wrote: “books the state doesn’t want you to read.”
About the message on the paper, Boismier said, “I would challenge anyone to find the falsehood in that.”
Affixed to the butcher paper was a QR code that led students to the Brooklyn Public Library’s Books Unbanned site. The Brooklyn Public Library’s Books Unbanned program offers free e-library cards to students ages 13-21. BPL’s website says the initiative of the program is “a response to an increasingly coordinated and effective effort to remove books tackling a wide range of topics from library shelves.”
Boismier said that it would be negligent to restrict her students’ access to books.
“I may not be able to put physical books on the shelves, but no one ever said I couldn’t show you where to get them elsewhere,” she said.
Boismier spoke directly to pre-service teachers in the interview.
“I know that it can be so incredibly discouraging and frightening looking at the landscape of public education in this state and beyond right now,” she said. “I know that hearing about my story — and I guarantee you, I will not be the only one — that can be scary. It can have folks saying, ‘Well, what about me? Am I next?’
“Please know that we need you. We desperately need you,” Boismier said. “Oklahoma education needs you. PK-12 students need you. There is, despite all appearances to the contrary, a massive network of support for you. Please don’t be discouraged. I did what I did, and I would do it again, gladly.”