Tulsa County Schools Under Fire For Ignoring New State Law

Thursday, October 14th 2010, 6:00 pm
By: News On 6

By Chris Wright, News On 6 

TULSA, Oklahoma -- A legal battle looms for some Tulsa school districts that have chosen to ignore a state law.

Several have refused to comply with House Bill 3393, which requires public schools to provide scholarship money so special needs students can attend private school.

10/11/2010 Related Story: Tulsa Union, Bixby Schools Refuse To Comply With Special Needs Funding Law

But the method the schools are using to fight the law has come under fire.

Bill Wilkinson, who has practiced education law for 40 years, is not a fan of House Bill 3393.

"It's a stupid piece of legislation," he said. "Someone was asleep at the wheel when they passed it. It's terrible."

But he says the law is the law, and he's baffled that districts are choosing simply not to comply with it.

"I've never seen anything like it before. I thought it was a bad dream when I saw it reported on the news. It's just a terrible, terrible mistake," Wilkinson said.

Tulsa Public Schools has yet to join schools like Jenks, Broken Arrow, Union and Bixby. The Board postponed a vote after listening to impassioned pleas from parents of special needs children Wednesday night.

10/13/2010 Related Story: Parents Of Special Needs Children Make Plea For House Bill 3393

"I am tired of fighting for my son. He has a right to an education. He has a right to friends, and he has a right to be able to learn and go to college as a regular student," Jamie Noble, a TPS parent said.

"There's also been a small structure in the front of this building that says 'no child left behind.' Yet my kid has been left behind over and over again in your school system," another parent said.

Douglas Mann, the lawyer for many Tulsa County districts, says non-compliance is the quickest way to get 3393 in front of a judge. The schools fully expect to get sued.

But Bill Wilkinson says there's another option.

The districts could have filed what's called a "Petition For Declaratory Judgement." He says that would have allowed a district judge to rule on whether or not 3393 is constitutional.

Instead, the schools have chosen what he believes is a very slippery slope.

"We can't deteriorate to the point where we can just simply say I like this law; I'm going to abide by it," Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson also represents school districts across the state, and says he's strongly advising them not to follow the lead of the larger Tulsa County districts.