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'Not acceptable': Board member, parent accuse charter school of enabling racism, bullying

Jennettie Marshall Tulsa School Board.png
Posted at 8:50 PM, Nov 02, 2023

TULSA, Okla. — Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education member Dr. Jennettie Marshall called claims of a racially abusive school environment at Tulsa Honor Academy the worst she's heard of in her seven years at the district.

During a news conference inside the Greenwood Cultural Center Thursday, Marshall cited various claims from "around 15 parents and five teachers," including faculty taking disproportionate discipline against Black students.

"This is not acceptable, and we will not sit and allow our voices to be silenced," Marshall said.

"We will not allow the hopes and dreams of our children to be dashed with cold water of hate. We will just simply not allow it."

Behind Marshall during the conference was Shari Alspach, who said her son, Kayden Matthews, was the subject of racist language and bullying so much that she unenrolled him Monday.

"Multiple teachers pick on students there. And they have their chosen few that they pick on. And they are mostly of non-Hispanic origin. Not necessarily African-American. Some are white," Alspach said. "It's bad."

The school's CEO, Elsie Urueta Pollack, sent 2 News a lengthy statement Thursday afternoon touching on the many claims.

Tulsa Honor Academy is aware of reported incidents of the use of racial slurs by scholars. The use of hate speech and racial slurs goes against Tulsa Honor Academy’s values and beliefs. While we have taken many steps to address these racial incidents, we know that this is an ongoing effort. This issue must be addressed at school, at home, and in our broader community.

Our School Culture Improvement Plan, which began in January of 2023, outlines THA’s plan to continue addressing these issues, which includes a partnership with the Restorative Justice Institute of Oklahoma. Prior to the majority’s vote to renew THA High School’s charter agreement on Monday, October 30, Tulsa Honor Academy shared the steps taken to address the racial incidents thus far and our plan moving forward.

In November of 2022, THA began reviewing consequence policy as a result of a racial slur incident. THA revised its policy to a zero-tolerance policy for the use of ANY racial slur or disparagement. Now, scholars who use a racial slur are suspended with increased days for additional offenses. THA is working continuously with THA staff to ensure this policy is implemented with fidelity.

We have had several productive conversations with Tulsa Public Schools staff and board members over the last several weeks. We look forward to partnering alongside our authorizer to learn more about TPS’s programs that successfully address and overcome these issues.

Tulsa Honor Academy has never had a deficiency for our safety protocols. Lockdowns, internal or external, are communicated to both families and staff.

Tulsa Honor Academy is committed to intervention, prevention, and solutions to build a school culture where all scholars AND staff belong. We know that if we come together as a community, we can build the school culture for which we strive.

- Elsie Urueta Pollock, THA's Chief Executive Officer

Marshall first spoke out in a Board of Education meeting Monday night before a vote to renew TPS's contract with the charter school.

Both Marshall and Dr. Jerry Griffin were the only board members to vote against renewing Tulsa Honor Academy's contract with the district.

It passed 4-2 with one member, E'Lena Ashley, not present for the meeting.

There were also safety and security concerns presented on Thursday.

Matthews said his now-former school was locked down repeatedly in the last couple of months due to threats and that parents only found out from their kids.

"They just made us give all of our backpacks at the start of the day," Matthews said. "And we went into class, and we have been in lockdown and hold a lot of times."

Marshall said she plans to bring forth ethics complaints and see if the contract can be terminated.

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