ICYMI: Ryan Walters’ Week of Backlash, Criticism, and Continued Upheaval at State Dept. of Education

by Sam Lau

Mass Exodus at OSDE Continues: “The state Education Department's attorneys are all gone.”

Oklahoma City – Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters must be relieved the calendar has turned to April, because his last week of March was filled with continued backlash and criticism from Oklahomans, canceled events, and more staff upheaval at the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE). It’s clear that no matter how much Walters tries to hide himself from criticism, Oklahomans refuse to let him off the hook. Take a look:

Monday, March 25: More Bad Polling for Walters

NonDoc, a nonprofit news site operated by the Sustainable Journalism Foundation, reported on new polling data on Walters, including one survey privately shared by Republican operatives, that all “show Walters with significant unfavorable ratings among a variety of demographics.”

  • In open-ended questions surrounding the general sentiment on Walters, only 0.6 percent of responses registered as “approve” or “positive.” “Instead, “disapprove” or “negative” topped results with 25.9 percent. Sentiment that Walters is “bad for public schools” registered at 19.1 percent, and another 9.8 percent of responders fell into a category of “closed-minded/divisive/arrogant.” Another 8.2 percent said “not qualified.” 5.7 percent registered as “extreme.”
  • All told, the open-ended question seeking description of Walters in “as many or as few words as you’d like” yielded 72.2 percent negative opinions from the Oklahoma Republicans surveyed.
  • Poll respondents’ open ended responses on Walters show depth of discontent with his leadership, even amongst conservative voters: “[Ryan Walters] does not know what he is doing, and he is going to ruin the public education system. I am a Republican and conservative, but [Walters] is beyond measure and creating issues,” said one man between the ages of 50 and 64 who identified as a “Trump Republican.”
  • “Another senior woman in that age bracket who identified as a “Traditional Republican” spoke more bluntly. “Ryan Walters takes the dictator approach to education. He does not include the public, teachers, administrators, or others directly involved in the educational process,” the woman said.”

Wednesday, March 27: Attempts to Silence Oklahomans Ahead of Board Meeting

State officials used ties and an extension cord to close off the entrance to the Oklahoma State Department of Education ahead of a highly anticipated State Board of Education meeting in what The Oklahoman is calling a “dramatic change of enforcement protocol.” In a clear effort to silence Oklahomans waiting outside in order to gain entrance to the State Board of Education meeting, a new rule was posted on the building barring people from waiting outside the building between 11 p.m. Wednesday night and 6 a.m. Thursday morning. This occurred despite the fact that, as Fox 25 reports, members of the public have previously camped overnight to reserve a spot at the board meetings, where seating and opportunities for public comments are extremely limited.

Thursday, March 28: Oklahomans Speak Out Against Walters at Board Meeting, OSDE Has No Lawyers Left

Just ten members of the public are allowed to speak during the public comment period at the Oklahoma State Board of Education monthly meetings. All ten speakers at Thursday’s meeting 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. Watch full video of Oklahomans criticizing Walters’ failures here.

But that wasn’t the only news to come out of the OSDE meeting: as The Oklahoman reported, it appears the department doesn’t have any attorneys left on staff, the latest development in a mass exodus of staff from the Oklahoma State Department of Education

  • “Instead of having an attorney employed by the agency present agenda items concerning legal matters to the board, the person presenting those items during the meeting instead was a contracted attorney for the board, which is not common practice. The likely reason? A recent run of departures from the state Education Department.”
  • “There have been rumblings that the state Education Department's three other known attorneys ― deputy general counsel Andy Ferguson and assistant general counsels Erin Smith and Nathan Downey ― also have left the agency. As of Thursday, there were no attorneys listed on the agency’s website on its “Office of Legal Services” page, a highly unusual situation for a major state agency.

Any shock then that Walters, who usually speaks to reporters after every board meeting, refused to answer questions on Thursday?

Friday, March 29: Walters Cancels Event

Just a day after the disastrous OSDE meeting, The Oklahoman reported that Ryan Walters had pulled out of an event hosted by a conservative group at Oklahoma State University, where student protests had been planned. "Is he so shaken by facing Oklahomans calling for his removal that he won’t even appear in front of a friendly crowd?" said Laurel Powell, the director of communications at HRC.


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