Ryan Walters announces plans for Tulsa Public Schools amid backlash from protestors

Peyton Cleek


Protestors gather outside the Oliver Hodge Education Building. (JESSEY KOLLIE/THE VISTA)

Oklahoma held its monthly board of education meeting on May 23, addressing Tulsa summer school programs, kids’ safety, and updates on issues with the Biden Administration while protestors gathered outside.

Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters spoke. “We continue to see sexual predators in the classroom which is why this board approved a rule to give more authority to us as a state department to go in and make sure that these predators aren’t in the classroom. We are going to continue to be aggressive to protect our kids and to make sure our schools are safe,” Walters said.

Protestors held messages on their signs supporting diversity and inclusion and disavowing Ryan Walters. (JESSEY KOLLIE/THE VISTA)

He continued.

“Our agency’s recommendation will be again, another record number of certificates will be revoked because of inappropriate action in the classroom, because of assaults on young people, and this has to stop,” Walters said. He also said that there also has been a drastic increase in fentanyl in schools and the state will fight back. He made the remark that he will not allow fentanyl to pour into schools “despite what Biden has done.”

 “We want to see an improvement for all of the kids in Tulsa and we want to make sure that they’re supported,” said Walters. This led to the decision to take $180,000 from the literacy and master program from the spring and move it into a Tulsa summer school program. The program is called Ready. Set. Summer! and will “prioritize the learners who need the most attention, and they will use their teachers, some of the best teachers in Tulsa Public Schools, to spend more time with those students,” said Walters.

Defense of Democracy was one group present at the meeting. (JESSEY KOLLIE/THE VISTA)

Walters also announced that they also are giving Tulsa Public Schools $220,000 for their student class credit recovery boot camp.

“We asked Tulsa what are your innovative out of the box ideas to really jump start student learning, and we loved this one,” he said.

It’s an accelerated program to give students credits that they have missed in the past so when they come back in the fall they’re caught back up. “Not only are we trying to get great test scores at the end of this year, but this is to build out long term success in the district,” he said.

The summer program offers full days of academic and enrichment programming at 24 of Tulsa’s sites throughout the district. There are 7,200 students enrolled in the program. It includes twenty days of instruction with free transportation to and from, and breakfast and lunch provided. 

The credit recovery boot camp will allow students who are missing credits to make them up over a four-week period. This will help students who need more credits to graduate from Tulsa Public Schools. Tulsa Public Schools are also going to start keeping better track of warning indicators such as academic performance and attendance to prevent this from happening. They also are going to help ensure students are enrolling in the correct classes so they can graduate on time. There will be over 150 students in this program.

Ebony Johnson, superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools, said they are looking at the year in entirety, especially “the things that we feel like we have done strong and the things that we know we need to tighten and make sure, truly is the footprint of our district.”

She continued.

“We continuously improve based on data. That non-negotiable is so critical because what we’re not going to do is assume that we think we know what the change should be, but we’re going to let the data drive those decisions,” she said. Johnson talked about Tulsa Public Schools’ district-wide survey for families and how they’re going to use that feedback to make changes in the schools. “We have to have environments where our teachers want to stay in our district. The way to do that is to create an environment where they want to be there, and that they feel like we are there to support them, help them and guide them,” she said. 

Erica Watkins, member of Defense of Democracy, protested outside of the Oliver Hodge Education Building where the Board of Education meeting was held. Defense of Democracy is a national non-profit organization with volunteers that believe in separation of church and state and that religion doesn’t belong in public schools.

“We come out here to advocate for a safe and inclusive public education system that is free from any religious influence because all kids deserve a well-rounded education,” said Watkins.

“We want to show trans and nonbinary youth that there are people that there are people that support them. We’re hearing very hateful rhetoric from superintendent Walters calling people that are a part of the queer community pedophiles and groomers and things like this, saying it’s indoctrination and that’s simply not true,” said Watkins. “We have seen, since the death of Nex Benedict, we have seen a 300% spike in youth crisis calls that are calling in crisis from Oklahoma alone,” she said. Watkins emphasized the impact of leaders’ words on youth.

The protestors remembered Nex Benedict, the nonbinary teenager that died after an attack in a school bathroom in 2024. (JESSEY KOLLIE/THE VISTA)

The activist group came the night before the board of education meeting because the public speaking was first come first serve. When they learned of the new lottery system to speak, they arranged to come early.

Watkins said it has not been easy for the group.

“We’re being called every name in the book. We’re being called, you know, radical woke mobs and out of state activist groups and that’s simply not true,” she said.

She continued.

“We’re Oklahoma parents,” Watkins said. “Most everyone here is from Oklahoma,” she said. The Human Rights Campaign was an out-of-state group that was present. Watkins described them as “the largest national organization that protects the civil and human rights of the people of the LGBT community.”

“Ryan Walters has been on their radar because of how dangerous he is,” she said.

Michelle Lara was there on behalf of Padres Unidos de Tulsa, a group of parents in Tulsa that advocate for their kids’ needs because of the “racial profiling and injustices that are happening in the school board,” she said. “We all mobilized as a community and got people together and have continued to meet to learn on how to access the school board and how to make it more accessible for Latinx and Spanish speaking families and of course looking out for our immigrant families because we’re all here.” She was there partnering with Freedom Oklahoma to amplify their voices. 

“Over 40% of Tulsa Public Schools students are Latinx or Hispanic identifying so just looking at that number they’re already going to be affected by HB 4156,” Lara said. HB 4156 creates the crime “impermissible occupation,” or illegal immigration, and requires individuals to leave the state 72 hours after the conviction.

“My child, who has family members that are immigrants, now has to go to school hearing Ryan Walters’ voice saying ‘Yeah I’m not here to support them’,” she said.

Gracie, who spoke at the meeting and requested their last name not be shared, said that both students and teachers are struggling.

“Teaching now is just so hard as well for teachers, so many are quitting because it is hard for them, they’re having a hard time being backed up from the school and the higher ups at their school,” they said.

In an interview between a Tulsa World reporter and Ryan Walters, Walters commented on these activist groups. He said, “You can go out there and look at all the signs that they have paid for and everything else, and why don’t you go ask them where they got the money from?”

He continued.

“I haven’t heard the media asking questions about how these activists have tents that just get popped up, how they all come out here for days at a time and camp out to push other people out. It is very clear that we have paid protesters coming from out of state,” he said.

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