Over the last month, several school boards around Oklahoma have openly defied the newly passed SB 658 by implementing mask mandates for students and teachers. Six teachers from Oklahoma City Public Schools have taken a principled stand and refused to comply with the unlawful mandates. Those six educators have now been placed on administrative leave with a recommendation for termination.
In an Ignite Liberty exclusive, two of these 6 teachers sat down for an interview to share their side of the story. These educators have worked for Roosevelt Middle School for a combined total of twelve years. Yet, over the last two weeks, they have been ostracized for the simple offense of following state law. We hope their stories shed light on the truth of what is happening inside the school districts across the state and the struggle that many teachers are battling with.
Widener stated that the storm within Roosevelt Middle School began nearly a week before August 13th, when the superintendent announced the mask mandate. In that week leading up to that Friday, Widener stated that his Principal, Mr. Farley, had told the teachers and staff that the superintendent was planning on violating state law.
Friday, August 13th, Superintendent Sean McDaniels, announced that starting Monday, August 16th, all students and staff would be required to wear a mask to attend school. Widener stated that he arrived at school on Monday with the intent of “not making a big deal” about not wearing a mask and just intended to go about his day. A short time after arriving at school, he was advised that Mr. Farley wanted to speak with him.
Once in Farley’s office, Farley asked Widener if he was going to wear a mask? Widener responded with “that he would not”. When Farley asked him why Widener responded by saying, “I am not going to violate state laws,” a decision that he came to over the weekend since the Superintendent’s announcement.
Widener said it was then that Farley told him that he needed to leave the school and that he was being placed on paid administrative leave. He was also told that he would need to submit to an “Investigative Interview” at a later date. After leaving the school, he contacted his attorney, who has been advising him legally since his “suspension.”
During the interview, Widener leveled explosive allegations against the American Federation of Teachers, one of the largest teacher’s unions in the nation. He stated that there had initially been twelve teachers that were going to be placed on administrative leave, but due to a lack of representation by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) investigative interviews, Widener believes six of those twelve were pressured into caving to the illegal demands by the school district. According to Widener, the AFT failed to provide an attorney for any of the teachers they supposedly represented.
Interestingly enough, Widener stressed that the mask itself wasn’t a big issue for him.”I followed the mandate when it wasn’t against the law.” It became an issue when the district chose to violate state law, a point he emphasized when he stated, “No employer should mandate an employee to break the law.” Widener had been wearing masks for the entire previous school year.
Widener is not the only one in his circle that has been impacted. He stated that it has been “stressful” for his family coupled with the concern of losing “healthcare for his family”. When asked about exemptions regarding masks, Widener advised that only students were given a full range of exemptions; on the other hand, staff were only offered a medical exemption.
When asked what action he believes should be taken by OKCPS Superintendent McDaniels, he stated,”he should step down after this. Right is right, and wrong is wrong.”
Dr. James Taylor
Like Widener, Taylor has been employed by Roosevelt Middle School teaching US History and Geography for a total of eight years. During this time, he has become a well-known figure and advocates for students and their education. Unfortunately, he is among the six teachers who are facing termination over refusing to follow the unlawful mandate.
Taylor’s story starts the exact same as Widener, with McDaniels instituting the mask on Monday, August 16th. By the time of the announcement, Taylor stated that he had already made up his mind on where he would stand. “I had determined I was not going to break the law.”
When Taylor arrived at school on Monday, he received a text message from Widener saying that he “was being sent home”. When he arrived at school, he was immediately told that Farley wanted to see him. A security guard escorted him to see Principal Farley. Taylor described the interaction by saying that “Mr. Farley had his mask below his nose and the security guards was on his chin.”
Farley asked Taylor the preposterous questions during the conversation, “do you care about the kids?” “Will you wear it for them?”. To Taylor, this was an absurd assumption, as he has cared for those children for eight years. He felt like the district placing him in the position between choosing the kids and doing what was right, was morally wrong. Like Widener, he was asked to leave and was placed on paid administrative leave.
Taylor said that a short time later, he was contacted for his investigative interview. He attended the interview, where OKCPS attempted to intimidate him just as they had 11 other teachers. During the interview, they told Taylor that they had to have a decision done by Friday because they will need to decide if they will need a teacher. Taylor snapped back, saying, “you had a teacher. You sent me home!”. Taylor was advised that the interview was recorded. During his interview, he requested a copy of the recording; however, he has not received it at the time of this writing.
Taylor stated that the school board is, “Painting the suspended teachers as villains that do not care for the students. But that’s not the truth.” Taylor continued, “Last year there was a state of emergency, and I complied with the mandate. This year [I] complied with the law and [I am] being punished.”
When asked about what impacts this had on Taylor’s family, he stated that it has actually “strengthened our marriage”. He said that his wife is very supportive of what he is doing.
A Principled Stand
At the end of their respective interviews, both Widener and Taylor reiterated the powerful, principled stands that should be made by all Oklahoma teachers. Widener stated, “Principles are just empty words if a person is not willing to risk everything they have for it!” Dr. Taylor closed by simply saying, “No matter what [OKCPS says], it is still against the law.”
Unfortunately, as of Wednesday, August 25th at 3:00 PM, all six of the teachers that were placed on administrative leave have been recommended for termination. Ignite Liberty has received notification that some of the teachers will be pursuing Wrongful Termination Suits and other forms of civil litigation.
On August 13th, Ignite Liberty reached out to the Oklahoma State School Board Association for comment on the illegal mandates, but have not received a response.
Since our interview with Dr. Taylor and Mr. Widener, the Oklahoma Attorney General has announced that he will be suing the school districts that have violated SB 658 by implementing mask mandates. It remains to be seen what impact that suit will have on these six OKCPS teachers.
Ignite Liberty will continue to monitor this story as it develops and the impacts that it will have on the educators of Oklahoma.
– Jonathan Hewitt