The Oklahoma House passed a parental rights bill on Thursday mandating that public schools allow parents to inspect and object to teachings on sexual orientation and gender identity. It also requires students to use bathrooms that correspond with their sex.
The amendment specifying bathroom use was a last-minute addition by Republican Rep. John Talley of Stillwater and Republican Rep. Kevin West of Moore in response to the Stillwater School Board’s refusal to back down from letting students use whichever bathrooms they want.
Despite pressure from the state’s Secretary of Education Ryan Walters and Attorney General John O’Connor, the Stillwater School Board insists that letting students use whichever bathroom they please is protected under the Biden administration’s proposed version of Title IX.
It’s an issue that has concerned parents for months and put the nearly 50,000-person college town at the center of the culture war.
‘Protect Our Daughters’
Riley Flack, whose 12-year-old daughter attends school in the Stillwater school district, first learned about the bathroom policy from a friend whose grandaughter goes to the same school as his daughter and was friends with a boy who now says he’s a girl.
“It’s been stressful just because we know that it’s crazy. And our kid is in the middle of it,” Flack told The Federalist.
Flack said he’s been skeptical of his school board for years, but the icing on the cake was when his friend was physically removed from a school board meeting about the bathroom issue for sharing a Bible verse.
“There are some downhill consequences from this that are pretty clear … like
abolishing the definition in the meaning of what a girl and a female is, it’s to the point of absurdity,” he said.
Ed Gallegos, another parent in the Stillwater Public School District, said he believes the school board and administration “seem to have embraced woke agendas at the expense of the common good.”
“Our daughters have a right to privacy, and we, as parents and a school district, have an obligation to protect their health and safety,” he told The Federalist.
Gallegos spoke at multiple school board meetings but said his concerns were shrugged off by the administration. That’s when he helped create Stillwaterparents.com, a website dedicated to “shed light upon policies and practices taking place in Stillwater public schools so that parents and guardians are fully informed.” The website features fact sheets breaking down the Stillwater district’s responses to parents and even a petition to “Protect Our Daughters.”
“The school board tried to disavow that they had knowledge that it was taking place in schools in the district. After the issue was brought to light, they tried to not take ownership of the policy by stating that they were tied to the policy by court precedent and state school board mandate. Neither of which have proved true,” Gallegos said.
‘Oklahoma Not Wokelahoma’
Under Title IX, schools and other educational institutions that receive funding from the federal government are prohibited from discriminating based on sex. President Joe Biden signed an executive order in March of 2021 that specified his intent to rewrite the federal rule and expand its definitions to include so-called gender identity. It’s an overhaul that is strongly opposed by nearly 30 parents’ rights organizations and one that Walters says is wrongly interpreted by the school board.
“This is far-left woke extremism that has targeted this one school district and found a weak board,” Walters told The Federalist.
In a letter to the school board in early April, Walters said the school board holds an “incorrect interpretation” of Title IX and that the district has “no right to allow men to use the girls’ restrooms in our schools.”
“The US Department of Education’s rules, that your school board claims ordered this travesty, simply allowed school districts to choose their own path — and Stillwater has chosen poorly,” Walters wrote. “You have chosen radicals over your students, ideology over biology, and ‘wokeness’ over safety.”
Both Walters and AG O’Connor penned letters to the school board demanding that they require students to use the bathroom corresponding to their sex.
Instead, the five-member school board asked for more clarity from the Oklahoma Department of Education and state Board of Education, which Stillwater Superintendent Gay Washington said is responsible for issuing the broad, pro-LGBT bathroom guidance that has governed the district “for years.”
Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, a Democrat candidate for governor, recently confirmed that she believes the Stillwater School Board has “legal precedent,” which she said “has addressed the need for equal access, including facilities,” even after she admitted that “no legal precedent on this topic currently exists in Oklahoma.”
Walters, who is a candidate for state superintendent, said Hofmeister is just stonewalling further state-level action on the issue by “muddying the waters.”
“I’ve issued guidance, I’ve pushed, and what she has done is come in and undermined it and said, ‘well, actually it is unclear,'” Walters told The Federalist.
Hofmeister did not respond to a request for comment.
As far as Walters knows, Stillwater is the only district in the state that allows boys to use girls’ restrooms and vice versa, but he said that doesn’t excuse the school board’s stalling.
“Instead of fighting with parents who have clearly spoken, they’re siding with a very small radical group because of just being fearful to actually stand up,” Walters said.
The school board’s conduct was also condemned by several Republican Senate candidates vying to represent Oklahoma in U.S. Congress. T.W. Shannon’s campaign told The Federalist that he believes, “We’ve already seen the terrible consequences of the left’s woke policies in cases where students have been sexually assaulted in school bathrooms and corrupt left-wing school boards have covered it up to protect their woke agenda, and their push to promote transgender ideology in classrooms.”
Luke Holland told The Federalist that the school board is “choosing woke politics over science” in what has turned out to be “another example of the radical left’s never-ending attack on the core Christian values on which this great country was founded.”
“Girls shouldn’t be allowed in boys’ bathrooms, and boys shouldn’t be allowed in girls’ bathrooms — it’s that simple. It’s biology. Whether it’s sports or bathrooms or birth certificates, the left continues to advance its anti-God agenda, but this is hurting our kids by adding to the troubles they face,” he said.
Nathan Dahm said the school board “entirely failed to protect their students” and lamented the state Senate’s “’Republican’ leadership,” which he said “doesn’t want to address these issues.”
“They would prefer to leave it to local school boards so these wrong decisions can be made but they can brush it off as not their responsibility,” Dahm said.
Scott Pruitt told The Federalist that he believes “access to private facilities at public schools, like bathrooms and locker rooms, participation on sports team, rooms for overnight school trips, and other such circumstances should be based on biological sex.”
“And likewise, I believe that the only people who should be talking to young children about issues related to gender and sex are their parents,” he added.
The Federalist did not receive comment from candidate Markwayne Mullin.