Protestors gather at the Oklahoma Capitol as part of the ongoing teacher walkout. BRIANNA BAILEY/The Frontier

Some Oklahoma school districts elected to reopen Tuesday despite the ongoing teacher walkout and rally at the state Capitol. Other districts planning to reopen Tuesday were forced to cancel classes anyway due to overwhelming teacher absences.

Teachers from Western Heights Public Schools in Southwest Oklahoma City were told to return on the classroom Tuesday or possibly face disciplinary action or dismissal.

On Monday night, the Western Heights school board voted to resume classes Tuesday, although many parents, students and faculty spoke out in support of the continued walkout.

Brittney Wheeland, who teaches third grade and is also teacher of the year at Council Grove Elementary, told the Western Heights board that it was important for staff from the district to continue protesting and talking with legislators at the the Oklahoma Capitol.

“What we are asking for is for us to be heard — that’s all we want,” Wheeland said. “…..if we stop today the fight is over.”

In a letter to parents last week, Joe Kitchens, superintendent of Western Heights told said newly enacted legislation approving teacher raises represented “outstanding legislative progress,” and that classes would resume on Tuesday.

“We hope that in the future we will continue to see progress towards improved levels of state support for Oklahoma’s public education system,” Kitchens wrote.

A letter from the school district’s attorney stated that teachers faced possibly employment contract violations for participating in the walkout.

Attempts to contact a representative for the Western Heights administration were unsuccessful Tuesday.

A person holds a sign outside the state Capitol Monday, April 2, 2018. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

Hilldale Public Schools in Muskogee were open Tuesday.

The district said Friday it would not close at all this week but reversed that decision on Sunday, announcing that classes would be cancelled Monday in support of the teacher walkout.

“…a decision was made on Friday that did not convey that message and made it appear that the board was not supportive,” Kaylin Coody, Hilldale superintendent wrote. “After further review and discussions the school board and administration is in agreement with our teachers and school will be closed on Monday. Our teachers will be at the capital (sic.)”

Debbie Smith, human resources director for Hilldale Public Schools said the local teachers union elected over the weekend to send rotating delegations of about 15 to 16 teachers each day to the Oklahoma Capitol beginning Tuesday.

However, only six teachers boarded a bus Tuesday to attend the protest, Smith said.

“We’re here to better serve the kids,” she said.

Teachers in some districts that haven’t supported the walkout are forcing schools to close by calling in sick or taking personal days.

Woodward Public Schools chose not to close on Monday, electing instead to send a delegation of teachers to protest. However, the district was forced to close on Tuesday due to overwhelming teacher absences.

Protestors march during the Oklahoma teacher Walkout outside the state Capitol Monday, April 2, 2018. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

“This afternoon we have 77 absences requesting substitute teachers, which we can not accommodate and ensure the safety of our students,” Woodward Public Schools announced late Monday. “Our teachers are passionate about advocating for school funding for the long term benefit of students all across our state. We pray our voices will make a difference for generations to come.”

Although its school board approved closing down during the walkout, Cleveland Public Schools in Pawnee County decided keep schools open this week after the passage of a revenue package at the Capitol that included an average $6,000 raise for teachers.

However, the district said Monday it will been forced to close through Wednesday due to teacher absences.

“Due to the significant amount of teachers who were planning on being out tomorrow, and with no end in sight of the lobbying efforts at the capital, Cleveland Public Schools is enacting the original plan to be out April 3rd and 4th, 2018. This plan was board approved during a special board meeting on March, 26th,” the district said in a statement.

By Tuesday afternoon, some districts had already announced plans to close for the remainder of the week due to a lack of teachers.
Okmulgee Public Schools initially told parents it would reopen on Tuesday, but announced Monday afternoon that classes would be cancelled for the rest of the week

Eufaula Public Schools in McIntosh County said Tuesday that classes would continue to be canceled for the remainder of the week.

Jeannette Smith, superintendent for Eufaula Public Schools said she did not know how long the district would continue to be closed due to work stoppages.

“My decision will be based on how many personnel I have available to me,” Smith said. “We’ve been asking our teachers to notify us each day— at this point the majority of those teachers will be out for the rest of the week to support the walkout.”