Parents organize to protest school closures

Education rally @ OK Capital Nov. 23

Updated: Concerned Oklahoma parents and public-school students rallied at the State Capitol Monday to demand a greater voice and role in education, especially as it relates to school closures and virtual learning. The rally included several speakers. Parents then met with legislators as well as representatives from the governor’s office and launched a new group: Parent Voice Oklahoma to elevate the role of parents in regard to educational decisions at the school, district and state level.

 Oklahoma teachers’ unions and many education officials have been pushing for indefinite, perhaps year-long school closures and a shift to virtual learning. Many parents say they feel left out of these decisions and placed in an impossible position.

Parent Voice Oklahoma starts with chapters in Owasso, Deer Creek, and Stillwater. Parents from Heritage Academy, a new Epic Charter School program that emphasizes bilingual learning and Hispanic culture and heritage, have also launched a chapter.

Dana Walsh, who attended Monday’s rally, said she got involved with Parent Voice Oklahoma because she feels parents are being ignored by local school districts.

“We are tired of not being listened to,” said Walsh, an Owasso parent. “Our school boards are making decisions that impact the health and wellbeing of our kids as well as our ability as parents to work. It is clear they are listening to unions, to politicians, and to the media, but they aren’t listening to parents. Enough is enough.”

Derek Lariviere, whose children attended Deer Creek public schools, said he attended the rally since his concerns have been ignored by the local school board. “Virtual learning is not the answer for my family,” said Lariviere. “It is not healthy or productive for my children. It is not logistically feasible for me as a working parent. What we are asking for is a seat at the table to express these concerns.

Right now, decisions seem to be made by unions and other entities that are not taking into account what is best for children or best for parents. I feel like our system is broken and parents’ voices don’t matter. That has to change,” Lariviere added.

One of the initiatives being pushed by Parent Voice Oklahoma is a petition to create a recall process for school board members who fail in their duty to represent the interests of students and parents.

“I signed the petition because the bars are open in my town, the restaurants are open, but the schools are closed,” said Lereviere. “What does that say about our priorities? We have to put kids and families first.”   

Robert Ruiz is the executive director of ChoiceMatters, an Oklahoma City-based non-profit that helps parents organize and advocate for their interests. He said that, while school closures are a catalyst for parent action, the real problem is the top-down nature of the public school system bureaucracy.

“We currently have a public school system where a few voices at the very top are making decisions about everything from curricula to personnel to school closures,” said Ruiz. “It’s very hard for parents to get inside that bubble to impact policy. We need to turn that system on its head, so parents are the guiding force to develop education priorities. The system is funded with their tax dollars and exists to educate their kids. It makes no sense to exclude them from governance. That’s what Parent Voice Oklahoma is all about.”

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