Three area legislators — all former educators — joined other House Democrats Thursday to blast Republican lawmakers who Tuesday condemned public school teachers who plan to rally at the State Capitol next month.
“We hear a lot of talk at the state Capitol about local control,” Rep. Curtis McDaniel said, “but when it comes time to actually let our communities and school districts make choices for themselves, suddenly some members of the majority party condemn them.”
The Smithville Democrat, a former public school administrator, said, “I know the importance of local control, and I’m proud of the members of my caucus for standing with our public school teachers and students” when they assemble here March 31.
Several school districts have canceled classes for that day to allow employees to attend the rally. Organizers say no public funds will be spent in connection with the event.
The Poteau School Board on Monday voted 4-1 to approve a motion in support of the rally, but put off a decision on who might participate and whether to cancel classes until next month's meeting.
The cancellations drew the criticism of Republican state Reps. Jason Murphey of Guthrie and Mike Turner of Oklahoma City, who say public districts shouldn't use public resources to lobby the state for more funding.
Superintendents i8n the districts that canceled classes said instruction time will be made up and that teachers will not be on contract time March 31.
“It is time for some members of the Legislature stop talking out of both sides of their mouth and let our local school board members — who are elected by voters residing in their local communities — to decide what is best for them,” McDaniel said.
“It is a sad day indeed when our fellow legislators denounce efforts by educators to practice the very democracy that is provided for in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States — ‘the right of the people peaceably to assemble,'” said Rep. Ed Cannaday.
As one of the teachers who rallied at the Capitol in 1990 in support of House Bill 1017, the comprehensive education reform measure, “It was refreshing to see at that time that legislators were receptive to the overwhelming demonstration of participatory democracy,” the Porum Democrat said.
“Today, though, we find a different climate, where legislators of the majority party condemn the upcoming March 31 educators’ rally concerning public education issues,” Cannaday said.
Oklahoma “became a better place for educating our children” as a result of the 1990 rally, “so let’s try it again,” Cannaday said, “with faith that communication is nothing to fear in a democracy.”
“When home-schooled students and their parents came to the Capitol to discuss important issues with their elected officials, Rep. Turner and Rep. Murphy were strangely quiet,” said Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner.
Those students, too, “took the day off from regular educational instruction — and their teachers did, too,” McPeak, a former school teacher, said. “I believe every teacher, parent, student, and Oklahoman has a right to gather at their State Capitol to pressure their public officials to do the job they were elected to do.”
Testing required by the state of Oklahoma — not national standards, but testing mandated by the State Department of Education — “consumes far more days than the one day that will be utilized by parents, teachers, and students to stress to Oklahoma legislators the importance of public education,” McPeak said.
McDaniel and Cannaday represent district that includes portions of LeFlore County.