Protesters greeted Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters with boos and tough questions during a recent Cleveland County Republican Party meeting in Norman. Walters faced widespread backlash for his remarks on the Tulsa Race Massacre after the event. The Frontier also found some of Walters’ answers to questions about the role he played in a flawed pandemic relief program and how his office has processed open records requests to be less than truthful.
Claim: A state vendor is responsible for the mismanagement of federal relief money intended to help families with educational expenses during the coronavirus pandemic.
Walters said: “We had a vendor that signed a contract with the state that said ‘we will disperse this money and we assume all responsibility for setting money.’ And there was money that was missing. And we moved to hold that vendor accountable through a lawsuit.”
Fact check: False
As The Frontier and Oklahoma Watch reported in 2022, the vendor, Florida-based ClassWallet, signed a contract with the state to allow parents to buy school supplies with federal pandemic relief funds through the company’s digital platform. At the time, Walters was the CEO of the nonprofit Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, which oversaw the program. Emails show a representative from ClassWallet asked Walters whether parents should be restricted from buying certain items on ClassWallet’s platform. But Walters gave “blanket approval” for all purchases. An investigation by The Frontier and Oklahoma Watch found that much of the money was spent on non-educational items including video games, home appliances and Christmas trees. The state sued ClassWallet last year, but didn’t do much to advance the lawsuit after it was filed. Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond dropped the lawsuit after taking office in January. A recently-released audit by State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd found that Oklahoma failed to inform ClassWallet and state agencies the money passed through of monitoring, reporting and records retention requirements. That audit lays blame for mismanagement of the funds squarely at the feet of the state.
Claim: Questionable spending of federal relief money happened before Ryan Walters took office.
Walters said: “This is all before I was in office. So once I came into office, again, internally auditing this vendor, okay, and what was going on there, and we found issues and that’s where the auditing process ramped up.”
Fact check: Mostly false
Oklahoma spent federal relief money on educational programs during 2020 and 2021 before Walters was elected as State Superintendent in November 2022. But Walters was involved in the oversight of those relief programs before being elected or appointed to a state office, reporting by The Frontier and Oklahoma Watch found. Walters helped secure the contract between the state and Class Wallet while he was executive director of Every Kid Counts Oklahoma. Walters also gave blanket approval to ClassWallet on what families could purchase through the program before he was appointed or elected to any state office. Gov. Kevin Stitt appointed Walters as Secretary of Education in September 2020 and he continued his involvement with the programs. That’s when the bulk of the money was misspent.
Claim: Allowing transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity resulted in an assault at Edmond Public Schools.
Walters said: “I don’t believe you allow boys in the girls bathroom unattended. I think it creates a very dangerous environment. We’ve seen an assault at Edmond Public Schools.”
Fact check: True but misleading
Months after Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a 2022 bill into law requiring kids in Oklahoma public schools to use the restrooms that “correspond to their birth sex,” a teenage transgender girl was accused of “severely” beating another student in the women’s bathroom at Edmond Memorial High School.
After the incident, Edmond Memorial Superintendent Angela Grunewald said in a video message to parents that the transgender student initiated the fight and had only been at the school for a short time. The student “enrolled as a female and presented themself as a female, and so had been accepted as a female,” Grunewald said.
Students said the fight was over allegations of stolen clothing, according to a police report. A police officer noted that students “speculated that (the girl) was a male” but were unsure, according to the report. While many critics of inclusive restrooms have raised concerns that girls will be sexually assaulted by men posing as women, physical fights in school restrooms are somewhat common, studies show. A report from the National Center for Education Statistics showed that 8% of students reported having been in a physical fight with another student on school property in 2019.
A parent of the girl who said she was attacked filed a lawsuit in May, accusing Edmond Public Schools of knowingly allowing the transgender girl to use the girls restroom.
“Edmond Public Schools is confident that when the facts are presented, it will be determined that the district fully complied with the law and acted in a reasonable manner,” Edmond Public Schools Director of Communications Susan Parks-Schlepp said in an email.
Claim: Ryan Walters has responded to more open records requests during his first six months as State Superintendent than his predecessor Joy Hofmeister did during her second term.
Walters said: “I’ve responded to more open records requests in the six months I’ve been there … than Joy Hofmeister did her entire second term.”
Fact check: False
During the last three years of Hofmeister’s second term between 2020 and 2022, the Oklahoma State Department of Education received 1,215 open records requests, according to records provided by the agency. As of July 7, two of those requests were listed as still pending. Walters took office in January 2023. Data for the year up to July 7 shows the department has received 326 open records requests and of those, 99 records requests had yet to be filled.
True: A claim that is backed up by factual evidence
Mostly true: A claim that is mostly true but also contains some inaccurate details
Mixed: A claim that contains a combination of accurate and inaccurate or unproven information
True but misleading: A claim that is factually true but omits critical details or context
Mostly false: A claim that is mostly false but also contains some accurate details
False: A claim that has no basis in fact