OKC developer blames board leader for charter delay
The developer behind a proposed dual language charter school accused the leader of the Oklahoma City School Board on Wednesday of playing "personal politics" to delay approval, despite district concerns over "potentially discriminatory admissions practices."
Blair Humphreys, in a letter to the board and community members, blamed Chairwoman Paula Lewis for the board's decision to postpone Monday night's vote on Western Gateway Elementary School.
Humphreys, the executive director of the Wheeler District and a member of the Western Gateway board of directors, accused Lewis of playing "personal politics related to unethical demands she made of us last year."
Humphreys said Lewis called him in early in 2018 and made it clear "that she would not be "agreeable to our efforts" unless his father, Kirk Humphreys, a member of the John Rex Charter Elementary School board, "complied with her demand" to support the immediate adoption of the of the district's nondiscrimination policy at John Rex. Instead, he voted for a nondiscrimination policy recommended by a John Rex committee.
"She attempted to use something that she knew was of value to me as leverage to meet her demands," he said.
The proposed school would be built on a donated site and funded in part through an estimated $20 million in Tax Increment Financing provided through an economic development agreement with the city of Oklahoma City.
Students enrolled in the school would learn to speak, read and write proficiently in two languages, presenters told the school board during a presentation on April 8.
The district's general counsel, in a letter to Western Gateway's attorney dated April 25, said legal concerns over student admission based on language spoken and language proficiency in English or Spanish, would require a "restart the 90-day review period" of the school's amended application, which was submitted on April 19.
Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Sean McDaniel said the district has "repeatedly raised concerns" related to the school's "potentially discriminatory admissions practices."
"Their inconsistent message has led us to require Western Gateway to submit a new and legally compliant charter application that clearly delineates their commitment to state and federal nondiscrimination practices," McDaniel told The Oklahoman on Wednesday.
Humphreys said the delay was not consistent with district staff's previous commitments and stated timeline. He has said he thinks they need to vote on it at its next meeting, which is Monday.
"We are concerned that this reversal of course is not related to the merits of the two-way dual immersion school or the interests of the students it will serve, but instead is related to our refusal to comply with demands made by OKCPS Chair Paula Lewis," he said.
Lewis called for Kirk Humphreys to step down from the John Rex board for remarks he made in December 2017 condemning homosexuality that led to his resignation from the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents.
At the time, Lewis said she didn't think Humphreys should be serving on the charter school board.
In a statement Wednesday, Lewis said she continues to be "outraged by Kirk Humphreys' discriminatory remarks about our LGBTQ friends and neighbors."
"But my consideration of the superintendent's recommendations related to the Western Gateway charter is in no way connected to my concerns about Mr. Humphreys' service on the John Rex board," Lewis said. In the case of both issues, my primary concern is that our students are loved and educated to become citizens in our diverse city."
Lewis said she is passionate about ensuring that students and families of all backgrounds are welcome and valued.
"For this reason, it should also not be a surprise to anyone that I am highly focused on ensuring that the admissions practices outlined in the Western Gateway charter application are also nondiscriminatory and equitable," she said.
Lewis said she stands by McDaniel's recommendation to require Western Gateway to submit a new application, "which we look forward to considering in July 2019."