After one state passed sweeping legislation reforming public schools' health standards, the board of education ignores them.
The Oklahoma State Board of Education (BOE) said no. The decision to cast a no vote was surprising and unprecedented. What the BOE was halting was the process of professional educators and experts from creating public school academic and health standards. More specifically, the vote centered around the recent passage of two new Oklahoma laws and the new health and physical education standards that were proposed.
But instead of approving or disapproving the new physical and health standards, four BOE members voted to keep the current health and physical education standards. The only thing that moved forward was the expert committee’s “proposed objectives dealing with mental health.” The four who decided to keep the status quo were Brian Bobek, Jennifer Monies, Trent Smith, and the newly appointed and seated BOE member Sarah Lepak. There were two absent board members, Estela Hernandez and Carlisha Williams Bradley, who did not offer their vote.
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, board chair, chose not to cast her vote. After the board meeting, she said via Tulsa World: “Frankly, when people ask why teachers are demoralized, it is because of disrespect, and this is an example of that. This leaves us with a giant mess.” Hofmeister said that she felt the board was mistaken about their lack of action. In fact, she said she cautioned the board before the meeting that if they chose to keep things as is that they would be keeping in place “old, vague, out-of-date” physical and health standards. They would be forgoing a new and comprehensive set of academic standards that would align with the new state laws. These new laws are intended to improve the overall health of children throughout the state.
House Bill 1568, also known as “Maria’s Law,” was passed to help students in the state better understand issues surrounding their mental health and how their overall well-being is affected by it. Sen. John Haste, R-Broken Arrow, and Rep. Jeff Boatman, R-Tulsa authored the bill that directed the Oklahoma education board and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to take a look at the state’s physical and health standards with the idea of revising them to better educate students about mental health. The law also was in place to help encourage students to seek treatment if necessary.
The Health Education Act is the second law that was passed. Haste co-authored the bill along with Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon. The purpose of this bill was to educate students on the health standards surrounding the importance of exercise and proper nutrition. It also spoke to substance abuse awareness, responsible decision-making, mental health and wellness, establishing and then maintaining positive relationships, and enhancing coping skills to understand and manage any instance of trauma.
With his denial to approve or disapprove of the new health standards, Bobek claims the board wasn’t given enough time to truly consider the proposal. Hofmeister countered by telling him the vote already had been delayed one time and the new health and physical standards were required to be sent to the Oklahoma Legislature to give them adequate time for its final review.
Haste was not pleased with the BOE decision, or lack thereof, saying, “Whether anyone agrees or disagrees with a decision, the important thing is there are checks and balances. The Legislature has our job. The Department of Education has its job. Our bill was specifically to update the standards.” Across the nation, the state of Oklahoma is one of only a few states that do not have a health standards education mandate for its public schools. Now, it appears that the new health standards will not move forward, keeping the old academic standards in place. The Oklahoma BOE made sure of that.