Ray Carter | November 10, 2021
School materials get parents’ attention
Oklahoma schools—in both rural and suburban districts—are providing students with sexually explicit materials and undermining parental rights in other ways, according to parents who have spoken out publicly at recent school board meetings.
The response from school officials has been mixed.
“If we had more accountability, didn’t have this type of material available, weren’t focused on controversial topics or forcing our children to ‘examine their lives’—which is a quote from a BPS (Bristow Public Schools) syllabus—our kids would be performing better,” said Kaycee Batschelett. “How many more kids must sit through a poor class listening to material that has nothing to do with their proper education or curriculum? How many more parents are going to discover, too late, that their child has been exposed by the school to material that should have been discussed in their home and/or with a counselor?”
Batschelett made those comments during this months’ meeting of the Bristow School Board, alongside other parents who complained the school is providing students with access to books of questionable academic and moral value without informing parents.
The board meeting drew an overflow crowd of concerned parents and had to be moved to a larger venue.
Brittney Bishop said that Bristow parents have raised concerns about school library materials “multiple times since 2015.” Nonetheless, she said current school policy still provides, without parental consent, unrestricted student access to materials, including those with “graphic violence, graphic sex, graphic rape, graphic suicide, cutting, drug usage and unlimited profanity.”
Bishop said some books now available to students include descriptions of rape “by knifepoint,” descriptions of child rape, incest, and underage sex. She suggested that violates Oklahoma law, which provides that any instruction or presentations regarding sexuality in courses other than sex education are not permitted without parental consent, while both state law and school policy require parental consent for sex education.
Batschelett read an excerpt from one book available at Bristow that stated a boy “wanted to f--- her, tenderly,” but that “the tightness of her vagina was more than he could bear” and “removing himself from her was so painful that he had to cut it short,” with the book then stating that the girl “appeared to have fainted.”
She said there are “many” books identified by parents that include not only graphic depictions of sex and violence, but also “anti-police views and step-by-step suicide ideas.”
“BPS policy states the responsibility of the selection of the library material and classroom material rests with the board of education. The superintendent is to develop regulations governing these materials,” Batschelett said. “This falls on you. It is under your control, and you have allowed this. We want age-appropriate, topic-appropriate material with proven educational value.”
Bishop said research shows that exposure to such materials is associated with negative or dangerous behaviors among children, including earlier sexual debut, aggression, and more.
“With the challenges that this demographic is facing within our school systems, why would this administration not only allow, but provide this kind of graphic content for our students?” Bishop asked.
She said students deserve “age-appropriate, topic-appropriate reading material—period.”
Similar complaints were raised at this month’s meeting of the Edmond School Board by Cheryl Williams, whose grandchildren attend Edmond. Williams read aloud material from “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls, including a range of profanities, a reference to masturbation, and the statement that “sexual assault is a crime of perception: if you don’t think you’re hurt, then you’re not. So many women make such a big deal out of things like this.” She said the book also includes gang rape, bullying, domestic violence, and glorification of theft.
“It is required reading for 11th and 10th graders at Edmond Memorial High School, and was assigned to my granddaughter to read,” Williams said. “When I called and complained about it, I was told, ‘Oh yeah. Parents complain about that every year.’ Then why is it still on the reading list?”
Batschelett said the problems highlighted by parents “are affecting our students’ overall education.”
“This type of reading material is not conducive to high expectations for our students and community standards,” Batschelett said. “Our high school currently has a D rating with only 33 percent passing English proficiently, 24 percent math, and 17 percent in science—pre-pandemic. What is the plan to raise these scores?”
The results of state testing administered in spring 2021 showed that 74 percent of Bristow students were below grade level in all subjects tested in all grades.
School culture also draws concerns
Parents have also raised concerns about overall school culture and how some schools are imposing or allowing the introduction of worldviews contrary to that of local families with parents saying some acts have occurred without public transparency.
Bishop noted the Bristow district added the Genders & Sexualities Alliance to the list of students clubs and organizations publicized on its website in October, but did so only “after we brought it to your attention.” The school website states that the Genders & Sexualities Alliance’s mission is “to bring together and recognize LGBT and straight youth in a positive and non-judgemental environment where they can fully express their individuality and shared experiences.” The group’s sponsor is Christian Davis, the high school language arts teacher.
Bishop asked that the board amend school policy regarding student participation in clubs.
“In order for parents to know about clubs in a timely manner, we request that the parental consent be required before a student is allowed to participate in a club, organization, sport, or extracurricular activity,” Bishop said. “The community feels that this is an added layer of protection for our students and parents, and provides accountability to the faculty advisor and the administration. Furthermore, we believe that this policy will help eliminate the behavioral and PDA (public display of affection) issues that are occurring within some clubs and classrooms.”
At the Edmond School Board meeting, parent Emily Wright noted that Edmond Superintendent Angela Grunewald is reportedly a fan of the book “Belonging Through a Culture of Dignity,” by Floyd Cobb and John Krownapple, and read aloud a quote from that book that described society as designed for “individuals possessing whiteness, maleness, and other identities, such as heterosexual Christian, that operate as an unstated norm.” Several of those phrases are associated with Critical Race Theory, a Marxist-derived theory that views all issues through a racial lens and assigns people the status of “privileged” or “oppressed” based on skin color and other traits, regardless of individual circumstances.
School responses vary
School officials have responded in different ways to concerns raised by Oklahoma parents.
Bristow Superintendent Curtis Shelton said the district would be reviewing books highlighted by parents, and local lawmakers also weighed in.
“A transparent investigation is absolutely necessary to determine the scope of the problem so that the issue can be dealt with properly,” said Sen. James Leewright, R-Bristow.
“The community is right to be concerned and state law is clear that content of the nature shared at the meeting should not be made available to children unless provided to school administration ahead of time and made available for parents’ inspection,” said Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow. “I appreciate the superintendent’s comments to the media about now addressing this and am hoping for a timely resolution of the issues for the sake of our students, educators and parents.”
Edmond officials have taken a more defensive stance.
In a written response posted online following this month’s school board meeting, Edmond Superintendent Angela Grunewald wrote, “These negative and sometimes false comments of a few are causing administrators and teachers to feel unsupported by a community that is known for its support of education.”
Regarding mandatory reading of “The Glass Castle,” Grunewald said students “can learn lessons from others’ lives” and that the book has been mandatory reading in Edmond for eight years. While conceding the book has “difficult and sensitive passages,” Grunewald said that “teachers do not reference these in class nor are they read out loud in class or part of the class discussion” even though students are required to read them.
Grunewald said she had read “Belonging Through a Culture of Dignity” and “believes there are many takeaways from this book that are important for educators, such as treating every student and teacher with dignity.”
During the Edmond School Board meeting, Williams lambasted school board members and administrators for what she described as a steadfast refusal to listen to district parents.
“We have cried. We have pleaded. We have screamed. We have begged. We have pleaded. We have done everything we know how to do to get your attention about the horrible things going on in our schools,” Williams said. “You don’t listen. You don’t do anything. And you don’t even hear our concerns or even act like you do.”
Williams called on the school board members to resign.
“It’s time for you to go home and stop letting this district be mediocre,” Williams said.
This year’s state testing showed that 59 percent of Edmond students were below grade level in all subjects and grades tested.
Williams' speech was met with applause and cheering from parents in attendance.
Jason Bishop, who also spoke at the Bristow school board meeting, said parents should have the ability to determine when and how to address sensitive issues with their own children without having to worry that school officials will send contradictory messages or impose emotional turmoil on children by introducing issues at an inappropriate age.
“We are asking our children to carry loads that are way too heavy for them,” Jason Bishop said. “They should not be forced as children to see and feel the world through the lens of adults. Innocence is worth protecting and worth fighting for. We need to do our part as parents and a community to carry certain things for them until they are old enough to bear the load. We must make sure they are receiving an education, not an indoctrination.”
NOTE: This article has been corrected since publication to correct the first name of the person first quoted in the sixth paragraph.
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.