ICYMI: Oklahomans Demand Ryan Walters’ Removal at State Board of Ed Meeting Before He Cancels Next Appearance

by Laurel Powell

Watch Oklahomans Speak Out Against Ryan Walters here.

“My final wish is this: one day very soon I pick up the Tulsa World and read, ‘Walters resigns.” -Oklahoma resident Mike H., who spoke at the meeting on the same day as his 75th birthday

BREAKING from The Oklahoman: Ryan Walters cancels his appearance at Oklahoma State University suddenly after explosive board meeting and planned student protests

Oklahoma City – Just ten members of the public are allowed to speak during the public comment period at the Oklahoma State Board of Education monthly meetings. And yesterday, all ten speakers used their time to call out State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters for his failure to protect the state’s LGBTQ+ students and keep Oklahoma schools safe. Their message was clear: Ryan Walters must be removed from office.

These Oklahomans spoke out despite attempts from state officials to block them from waiting in line for the meeting the previous night, when they used ties and an extension cord to close off the entrance to the OSDE building in what was called a “dramatic change of enforcement protocol.” Now today, The Oklahoman reports that Ryan Walters has pulled out of an event hosted by a conservative group at Oklahoma State University, where student protests had been planned.

Read more from the Oklahomans who spoke out at the board meeting, in their own words, and watch full video here

Mike H, who spoke on his 75th birthday: [My wish is] that this board and all of our elected officials read the changes Mr. Walters is making to the Oklahoma Board of Education’s foundational values and policies and see them for what they are - an effort to destroy our public schools, and the imposition of one religious belief onto our public schools in direct violation of the state’s constitution…our children are struggling and what they need is love and acceptance, no matter what home they come from, what country they come from, no matter what name or pronoun they want to be called or who they wish to love. If any of you in education are not able to love and encourage every one of our kids in public schools, you do not belong in the room when we are making decisions for their futures…We are the people. We don’t need you in our bedrooms, our homes, and most importantly our schools. My final wish is this: one day very soon I pick up the Tulsa World and read, ‘Walters resigns.’ See you next month or in court, whichever comes first.”

Katie P, former Oklahoma public school student (reading letters from trans kids): “Bullying led to the death of my friend Nex…I’m tired. I’m tired of being afraid in school because of who I am. I’m tired of listening to the whispers and the snickers when I tell the teacher my “real” name. I’m tired of listening to the news from different parts of America of kids dying because of the pins they wore on their bags or hanging colorful flags in their room. I’m tired of being afraid - just let me exist…We are hurting, and you call us ‘filth’ and ‘outcasts’. You will be on the wrong side of history in future years…We rely on people like you to hear your voice, and yet you repeatedly mute us. Enough is enough. We are human…“The Oklahoma Education Board has failed me as a student.”

Nicole McAfee, Executive Director, Freedom Oklahoma: “I could start today with a moment of silence for Nex Benedict, but I think you all have been silent enough for all of us…Let me tell you about my radical agenda. I want every two-spirit, transgender, and gender nonconforming child to be able to live to adulthood. To be able to go to school each day without fearing for their life or for their safety. I want two-spirit, transgender, and gender nonconforming people to feel like they can stay here. …If you truly care about every student, then there are urgent actions you can take. You can repeal the gender discrimination-based single sex bathroom rules that force districts to choose between the risk of losing funding or the risk of losing student lives. You can repeal administrative rules you passed last spring that force school staff to out queer and trans students, even when they know it is life threatening. You can change the hostile school environments, but it requires action. It is action that Nex deserved. And we can’t get Nex back, but there are just as many students in schools across the state in your districts who need you to do something and they need you to do it now.”

Robin F, fifth generation Oklahoman, educator, and mom: “The reason Mr. Walters’ talking points don’t sound like your local school district is that his rhetoric was backed by billionaire politicians to undermine trust in our communities’ schools… Let’s be clear: this chaos is intentional and malicious. Let’s not forget that he rose to prominence drawing a six-figure salary working at Every Kid Counts, an org funded by school privatization advocates like Charles Koch and the Walton Foundation. The corruption is on display at every turn: Walters is a cog in a privatization machine and every minute he remains worsens our teacher exodus.”

Jacob L, addressing Ryan Walters directly: “You mentioned a woke mob. You mentioned a radical leftwing group. But I am not a woke mob, Superintendent. I am not a radical left group. I live here. I am queer and nonbinary, I am born and raised in OK – I care so much about the people of this state. I want to stay here and thrive here – I don’t want us to always be at each other’s throats. I don’t want to see people that look like me and identify like me die…I live with queer people and I have queer friends that are always in my presence…We are mourning our futures as I stand here unless change happens I can’t make it here. So please Superintendent and school board, allow me to thrive in this state.”

Oklahoma Rep. Mauree Turner: “As elected officials, we are called to represent the folks that we also cannot see…and in this case, specifically the youth that we refuse to see, like Nex Benedict, the rhetoric that elected officials spread is deadly…An education major came to my office yesterday, specifically to figure out how they could get rid of you [Ryan Walters]....Being able to be a representative of the people of Oklahoma and our youth is probably one of the highest privileges I think anyone could hold. To shame not only the title, but the youth of Oklahoma and the families who care for them, couldn’t help you sleep better at night.

Yesterday’s board meeting came as Walters faces continued backlash from Oklahoma parents and dwindling poll numbers. Under his watch, Oklahoma schools are in a race to the bottom of the national education standings (49th nationally in K-12 education), all while there continues to be a mass exodus of staff from the Oklahoma State Department of Education, repeated clashes with state legislatures, and dangerous rhetoric and policies that have left Oklahoma’s 2SLGBTQI (two spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex+) students reporting feeling unsafe in the state’s schools in the wake of the death of Nex Benedict.

Every single person allowed to speak at this month’s Board of Education meeting -- all Oklahomans or parents with kids in Oklahoma schools— told Ryan Walters to his face that he has failed at his job and is harming Oklahoma students. They have clearly had enough of his cruelty and his incompetence, both of which were on full display during the meeting. His opposition is not a straw man 'woke mob,' but the people he pretends to serve. Ryan Walters must be removed.

Laurel Powell, HRC Spokesperson

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