State education board places Woodland on probation

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

The Oklahoma State Board of Education on Thursday, Jan. 28, voted to change the accreditation status of Woodland Public Schools, headquartered in Fairfax, to probationary.

The Oklahoma board acted after the U.S. Department of Education on Jan. 19 placed Woodland on “high risk” status and requested that the state take a comparable step.

The federal and state disciplinary actions are reportedly a result of Woodland Public Schools administrators failing, since 2015, to submit data related to federal civil rights oversight.

Members of the Oklahoma State Board of Education were informed that Woodland had the distinction of being the only one of more than 17,000 public school districts in the nation that failed to submit its data during the two most recent collection periods. The data, submission of which is a requirement for federal funding, is collected every other year.

There had been at least 12 communications from the U.S. Department of Education and the Oklahoma State Department of Education between March 2018 and January 2021 regarding the problem, state board members learned.

The school district’s administration, led by Superintendent Todd Kimrey, reportedly cited a “lack of staff” as the reason for not submitting the data. The state Department of Education reportedly does about 60 percent of the work on the civil rights data report for the school districts, to help them submit it on a timely basis.

The state board was also informed that Woodland Schools had been uncooperative regarding the submission of records needed for an administrative review in 2020 of its child nutrition program. Numerous attempts were made to obtain the records, but the district reportedly provided “little-to-no response.”

“Same pattern, same conduct, same disregard,” Brad Clark, the general counsel of the Oklahoma State Department of Education, said regarding Woodland’s response to the attempt to obtain nutrition program records.

The Woodland district did not have any representatives at the state board meeting in Oklahoma City, but officials said the district had been contacted and invited to send representation.

The Journal-Capital on Friday contacted Berry Harrison III, president of the Woodland Board of Education, to seek a response from him on the state action. Harrison declined to comment, other than to say there would be a special meeting of the district’s board Tuesday, Feb. 2, at the high school library. 

Trent Smith, a new member of the state board, asked during the Jan. 28 meeting if some action could be taken to penalize Kimrey individually rather than penalizing the school district as a whole, and the 400-plus students who attend its schools.

Smith was told that the accreditation status change for the district was intended to get the attention of the entire Woodland Public Schools community (the Fairfax and Ralston areas).

A videotape of the state board meeting is available on the Facebook page of the Oklahoma State Department of Education for the public to view.