Some raised questions about what power Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters has to mandate specific curriculum after he issued a directive requiring schools to incorporate the Bible into classroom lessons.

“​​Immediate and strict compliance is expected,”Walters said in a memo sent to school superintendents across the state on June 27.

Walters also announced this week he plans an overhaul of state academic standards for social studies and named a slate of advisors that included the leaders of conservative think tanks and media personalities.

“The revised standards will incorporate the introduction of the Bible as an instructional resource that Superintendent Walters announced last week as well as ensuring that social studies reflect accuracy and not political slanted viewpoints,” the announcement said.  

We researched state and federal laws and court rulings to fact-check claims Walters has made about what state law allows him to do and who has the legal authority to make decisions on classroom curriculum. 

Claim: The Oklahoma state superintendent has the authority to require specific content be taught in public schools. 
Source: Walters told NBC News he has the legal authority to require the Bible in classroom instruction and that teachers who don’t comply could lose their teaching licenses. 
Fact check: Mostly false

The Oklahoma Attorney General’s office has said that Walters has no legal authority to require certain content be taught by sending a memo to school districts. 

State law gives local school districts the exclusive power to determine “the instruction, curriculum, reading lists and instructional materials and textbooks.” 

The Oklahoma Board of Education, which Walters chairs, is responsible for adopting academic standards. The standards set a basic framework for what students should know by the end of each school year, according to state law. The Board of Education also has the power to revoke teaching certifications for willful violations of state or federal rules.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education did not respond to The Frontier’s questions about the legal grounds for Walters’ authority to require schools to include the Bible in classroom lessons.
-Brianna Bailey

Claim: Oklahoma law already allows the Bible to be taught in public schools.
Source: “Oklahoma law already explicitly allows Bibles in the classroom and enables teachers to use them in instruction,” Phil Bacharach, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office said in statements to several media outlets. 
Fact check: Mostly true

In 2010, the Oklahoma Legislature passed and then-Gov. Brad Henry signed a bill allowing public high schools to offer students elective courses on the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible, to teach “students knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including literature, art, music, mores, oratory, and public policy.” The law also requires that the class maintain religious neutrality, accommodate other religious perspectives of students and not promote or disfavor a particular religion or lack of religious belief or run afoul of state and federal constitutions. That last part is a requirement for the law to be valid, as Oklahoma’s constitution explicitly prohibits taxpayer money and resources from being spent for religious purposes or instruction. When the Legislature tried to remove that state constitutional prohibition via a ballot measure in 2016, Oklahoma voters solidly rejected the attempt.
-Clifton Adcock

Claim: Oklahoma academic standards require the Bible to be taught in the context of historical documents. 
Source:  “We have academic standards that tell our teachers that you are to talk about the Bible in reference to the Mayflower Compact, letters from a Birmingham Jail, the Declaration of Independence,” Walters said in an interview on Fox News 
Fact check: False

State law prohibits the teaching of sectarian or religious doctrine in Oklahoma public schools but allows the reading of Scripture. The current Oklahoma academic standards do not list the Bible as a required text in public instruction. The standards do not mandate any specific curriculum or dictate how teachers should teach. The Bible is not listed as a material to be taught in reference to historical documents such as the Mayflower Compact, letters from a Birmingham Jail or the Declaration of Independence.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment. 
-Maddy Keyes 

Claim: The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution do not mention separation of church and state.
Source: “The separation of church and state appears nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or Constitution,” Walters said in an interview with PBS News.
Fact check: True but misleading

It’s true that the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution, but the First Amendment’s establishment clause states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” 

The concept of “separation of church and state” has been in use throughout American history, according to historical records. Thomas Jefferson said in an 1801 letter that the establishment clause was intended to create “a wall of separation between Church and State.” 

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the establishment clause also applies to states.

The Frontier reached out to Walters and a spokesman for the superintendent maintained that his statement was true. 
-Jazz Wolfe

Rating system: 
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

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