On Thursday afternoon, the Lawton Public Schools Board of Education met to determine how to manage a possible teacher walk-out. Following the Board’s strong statement of support for staff in the March 12 Board meeting, district administrators/principals met daily to determine how to best manage an educator-led walk-out. Then, after spring break, the Board met again to hear what district administrators and principals had determined, and at that point, a poll of certified and support staff indicated that 76.5% supported a three-day walk-out. According to policy and law, only the Board of Education could determine the guidelines, so we scheduled a special meeting for Thursday, March 29 to formally adopt a plan.
Before that special meeting happened, the Oklahoma Legislature passed legislation which appeared to meet some of the demands of the OEA, but the Governor had not yet signed the bill. As a result, 79.3% of LPS staff members polled were still committed to a walk-out, and feedback indicated it was because of uncertainty surrounding the legislation. Consequently, the Board determined that it could not responsibly declare an extended walk-out until all facts were available. The decision would have to be day-by-day. Our local OEA/PEAL representative agreed with this decision in the board meeting. We needed to give everyone time to understand the legislation. We also needed to hear directly from parents in meetings scheduled across the district. The path has never changed, however. Educators still have the power to walk out, and LPS will close if they choose to do so.
As a result, the Board formally granted me the authority to close school on a day-by-day basis beginning Tuesday, April 3, if we do not have enough staff to safely conduct school. The Board also declared that we should open feeding sites if staff walks out. Extra-curricular and professional development activities may continue as long as site principals could guarantee that appropriate staff and safety measures were in place, per policy and law. We will continue to send advocacy teams to the Capitol, and allow full-time staff to work who may lose pay as the result of a walk-out. We also postponed our April 3 board meeting. The Board of Education has done exactly as it promised: accommodate educators’ decision while doing everything possible to lessen the overall impact of a walk-out.
Our district administrators/principals set a course from the beginning based on two criteria: fully inform everyone possible and include as many as possible. We did not have actionable information at the time of the Board meeting, so after LPS educators have a chance to weigh the facts and information, they will decide Monday afternoon if they still wish to walk-out. If we do not have enough staff to serve children safely, we will close school on a day-by-day basis until this is over. From the beginning, this decision has been in the hands of LPS staff, and it still is.
At the time of this writing, it appears that the Legislation is what it claims to be: a large raise for LPS teachers (average of over $6,000), funding for textbooks, and a small increase for school funding. Legislators have not yet resolved support staff pay or some funding issues. Neither insurance nor benefits seem to have changed. The OEA seems to accept the legislation as a good step, but they do not believe it is enough. In order to keep you fully informed, we have shared facts on our Facebook page and LPS website as we received them during this entire process. The Board’s commitment has been firm from day one: to respect and support educators’ decisions. We cannot safely have school without staff members present; therefore, we will close school if LPS staff walks out.
At this point, our legislators and educational leaders have cooperated to pass the largest tax increase in the history of Oklahoma, but a decade of educators’ anger and frustration has been unleashed that may have to run its course. We must carefully and strategically consider how our response could impact our neighbors, friends, and community. The stakes have never been higher, and local educators’ next decision could impact Lawton Public Schools for a long time, either affirming or damaging the strong trust and support that Lawton-Fort Sill has shown for our schools and our staff. I ask every person in Lawton-Fort Sill to earnestly pray for wisdom for all involved, and may everyone have a blessed and peaceful Easter weekend.