Okay. teacher resigns in protest of law restricting education on race

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Summer Boismier got through only one day of the school year before a parent complained and administrators descended on her high school classroom to investigate. Days later, she quit in protest of a new Oklahoma law that restricts teaching about race and gender.

Even before the first day of the school year at Norman High School, Boismier suspected her personal classroom library would get her in trouble by running afoul of that law, so she covered her books with butcher paper. But she added a touch of defiance, scrawling a message in permanent marker across the paper.

“Books the state doesn’t want you to read,” it said.

Boismier, 34, included a QR code that her sophomore English students could scan with their phones, taking them to an application for a Brooklyn Public Library card. The site said that, even if they lived out of state, teenagers could still access materials as part of the library’s Books Unbanned project, “a response to an increasingly coordinated and effective effort to remove books tackling a wide range of topics from library shelves. “

Hours later, a parent complained to school officials about Boismier, accusing her of violating a new state law limiting public school lessons or materials that lead students to “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress” because of their race or gender. The complaint thrust Boismier into the debate about the role parents, teachers and administrators play in deciding what to teach children, particularly when it comes to race and gender. Politicians in 35 other states are trying to restrict or have restricted education on racism, bias and related topics, according to Chalkbeat.

New critical race theory laws have teachers scared, confused and self-censoring

Oklahoma’s law is particularly severe, The Washington Post reported. Teachers deemed to have violated the law can lose their teaching licenses.

In the first half of last year, Boismier and her colleagues monitored the legislation closely as it worked its way through the Oklahoma legislature, worried “because essentially what it attempts to do is legislate feelings and legislate intent.”

Even though the new law took effect months before Boismier started her first year at Norman High, she told The Post that she mostly ignored it and taught as she had in her previous seven years in a classroom. Boismier said one of the most important parts of her job is to talk openly about the dark chapters of American history and how those shaped and continue to shape literature and identity.

“I believe we need to have those difficult conversations,” she said. “That is absolutely essential to what I do.”

But things changed late last month when the state Board of Education downgraded two school districts’ accreditations for violating the new law, Boismier said. The moves sent a warning to teachers in other districts across the state, she said.

“It was intended to send a message, and message received,” she added.

Wed Aug. 11, teachers in Norman returned to work from summer break eight days before classes began. Because of the new law and the “serious legal consequences for teachers and districts,” administrators told teachers to review their classroom libraries before the first day of school to “ensure age-appropriateness,” asking them to vouch for the works or “provide at at least two professional sources verifying their appropriateness,” a district spokesperson told The Post in a statement.

“We have not banned any books or told teachers to remove books from their classrooms,” spokesperson Wes Moody said in the statement. “Classroom libraries enrich our schools and we want our classrooms to be places where literacy thrives.”

Boismier said she was one of the teachers who asked for guidance on personal classroom libraries. She’d spent her own money to build hers into a collection of more than 500 books, many of the texts selected to broaden lessons beyond official reading lists she said are often stacked with works written by “mostly old, dead White guys.”

“That’s a way for me to supplement that and add in those more inclusive, multicultural texts that the curriculum, the reading lists that are official doesn’t allow for,” Boismier said, adding, “If you’ve seen it on a banned books list, I have made an effort to acquire it.”

Referring to the bill that would eventually become the new law restricting classroom discussion on race and gender, she called her library “a physical manifestation of an HB 1775 violation.”

Teachers were asked to either box up the books that might trigger a complaint, turn them so their spines faced inward or cover them, she said. Choosing the latter option, Boismier got out the butcher paper to hide the books from the very students she would have lent them to in years past.

She included the QR code along with a caption: “Definitely don’t scan this!”

Boismier told CNN that district officials said they felt the label on the QR code made it forbidden, and they didn’t want to encourage students to do anything illegal. She told The Post that officials put her on administrative leave. In its statement, the district refuted that claim, saying Boismier was never placed on administrative leave or suspended.

But they did punish her, the district spokesperson said. At a Tuesday meeting, administrators told Boismier she was being admonished for “making personal, political statements during class time and using their classroom to make a political display expressing those opinions.”

“Like many educators, the teacher has concerns regarding censorship and book removal by the Oklahoma state legislature,” Moody wrote in a statement to The Post. “However, as educators it is our goal to teach students to think critically, not to tell them what to think.”

Administrators asked Boismier to report back to her classroom Wednesday morning. Instead, she resigned. Boismier told The Post if she stayed and taught the way she always has, she feared being hit with an escalating series of punishments.

So, Boismier said, she accelerated things and is out of a job, wishes she were still teaching in a classroom and doesn’t know what she’ll do next. Still, she has no regrets about what she did or resigning. She recognized the school district was in a tight spot and said she placed most of the blame on Oklahoma Republicans for fomenting what she described as a growing culture of fear, confusion and uncertainty in schools.

Amid that climate, Boismier said, she doesn’t feel like she has a place in an Oklahoma classroom.

Boismier said she might get a job coaching teachers on how to instruct students more effectively. Or she could get into education advocacy. Whatever she does, she plans to stay in education — in Oklahoma.

“That’s a message that I’d like to send to the folks at the top of the food chain in state leadership,” she said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

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