- An Oklahoma teacher was put on administrative leave after telling students how to access banned books through the Brooklyn Public Library.
- The teacher told Insider that a new Oklahoma law banning Critical Race Theory is compelling teachers to quit.
- The same school district fired a teacher who shared photos of racist, homophobic graffiti with a parent in June.
This story was updated at 6:16 p.m., after the administrative meeting was held.
An Oklahoma high school English teacher was placed on administrative leave Monday after she told students how to access banned books through a New York library.
The teacher, who asked not to be named due to the ongoing disciplinary hearings, told Insider she was put in an "impossible" situation when students returned to classes last week to find bookshelves covered over and classroom libraries — including her own — dismantled.
The vague wording in a recent state ban on teaching Critical Race Theory in Oklahoma schools has prompted fear and confusion among public school teachers who don't know which books are considered "offensive" and will trigger backlash, the English teacher told Insider.
Norman schools told teachers they must have personally read every book in their classroom or provide "two professional sources" verifying the books' "appropriateness."
To protect themselves and the school district, some teachers in Norman Public Schools have removed their classroom libraries or covered all books with paper, she said. When students came back to school on Friday, they had questions, she said.
"They see that every single bookshelf is covered over and no books are visible and I answered that question that students had and I answered it honestly," she said. The books were banned "because they center perspectives and communities that many state leaders felt threatened by: that's the LGBT+ and BIPOC communities."
The teacher said she then told students about UnBanned, a program out of the Brooklyn Public Library that provides access to free e-books of banned literature.
On Monday, she was told that a meeting had been scheduled between her and an assistant superintendent for the district. She was then alerted that a substitute teacher had been assigned to her class and she'd been placed on administrative leave.
She requested that the Monday meeting be moved back so she could retain legal representation through the teachers union, she said.
Moody first said the teacher had taken leave until the meeting — which was rescheduled for Tuesday afternoon. When pushed on whether the leave was her decision or if she was told she was not permitted on school grounds until the meeting — as she claimed — he said he couldn't confirm.
"A concerned parent reached out to us about a potential issue regarding Oklahoma HB 1775. We are reviewing the matter and are scheduled to speak with the teacher later today," he said. "They have not been suspended or terminated."
After the meeting Tuesday, Moody told Insider that the teacher was not terminated but expressed she planned to resign.
"The concern centered on a Norman Public Schools teacher who, during class time, made personal, political statements and used their classroom to make a political display expressing those opinions," he said. "Like many educators, the teacher has concerns regarding censorship and book removal by the Oklahoma state legislature. However, as educators it is our goal to teach students to think critically, not to tell them what to think. We addressed the issue and expected the teacher to return to class as normal Wednesday."
The sophomore English teacher is starting her second year at Norman Public Schools, a district still engulfed in controversy from disciplinary action it took against another teacher.
Last year, the school board fired Norman High School history teacher Richard Cavett after he shared photos of threatening graffiti with a school parent who is a progressive local activist like him.
The graffiti was a list of students who were either Black, LGBTQ+, or both, with a threat and a date, according to Cavett, who has since moved to Connecticut.
He was concerned the district was going to cover up the threat without informing police or others in the school community. That parent then shared the images with media outlets.
Cavett told Insider he shared the graffiti photos after he reported the vandalism to the principal and then heard from a student that the graffiti was being painted over without the help of police.
The school also painted over the graffiti before school resource officers looked at it, according to the Norman Transcript.
Cavett's lawyer told the school board he was worried administrators wouldn't take action and feared for the lives of teachers and students.
"I thought, oh, this is another case of Norman Public Schools trying to cover things up, so I sent it to the media, and they fired me for violating privacy laws," Cavett told Insider on Tuesday. "The superintendent of Norman Public Schools is dangerous."
Some parents are also disappointed with how HR 1775 is impacting what books are available in schools.
"People say Norman is a liberal haven but I just don't know," Pixie Quigley, who sent out photos of the threatening graffiti to the media last year, told Insider. "If the teachers have personal books behind their desks, they have to turn them around or cover them with paper until they can go through them and determine if there is anything in them that people might consider 'offensive' or 'hurtful.'"
Quigley said she had sent out the photos because Cavett worried the school would paint over the vandalism in an attempt to cover it up.
"Which it did," she said. "We lost a lot of teachers after that last year."
Never the "good guys"
The English teacher told Insider she was born in Oklahoma and is a product of Oklahoma schools, but the recent law — HR 1775— is moving the state backward.
The law bans eight concepts from K-12 classrooms, including that one race or sex is superior to another, an individual is inherently racist, and that people should feel discomfort on account of their race or sex.
Those who feel like the law is being violated — either because of how a subject is being taught or what materials or trainings are provided — can make a complaint.
Two school districts have already been admonished after the state Board of Education found that they were in violation of HR 1775. One of the schools had offered a third party implicit bias training, and the other held a student exercise about how people have "different experiences in life," including facing discrimination.
The admonishments, which arose from student complaints, included lowering their accreditations to "accredited with warning."
The English teacher told Insider that administrators have repeatedly told staff that the new law doesn't mean they have to "pack up your books and take them home."
"But I saw many teachers feel compelled to do just that," she said. "Teachers have been giving away their bookshelves in their classrooms because they have no use for them. They sit empty."
The teacher said she tweeted a photo of a school classroom with the bookshelves covered in red construction paper, captioned, "Books the state doesn't want you to read."
A pride flag hung on the wall behind them.
"Given the serious legal consequences for teachers and districts regarding HB 1775, NPS has placed a renewed emphasis on ensuring our teachers and staff have reviewed their classroom resources to ensure all materials are age and content appropriate," Moody said in a statement earlier in the day. "We've asked that teachers have either personally read the titles in their classrooms or can provide at least two professional sources verifying their appropriateness. ... Our intent has been to inform teachers of the potential professional consequences of HB 1775 and ensure they are supported and able to confidently retain their classroom libraries."
The English teacher said what is happening in Norman Public Schools extends beyond Oklahoma as states around the country limit which ideas can be taught in classrooms.
"This is how it starts. First they come for the books, then they burn them," she said. "When we are regulating what information people have access to that becomes a problem quickly. I cant think of a time in history where the people doing the book banning are remembered as the 'good guys'."