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Reflections on the Walkout

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Posted in:  
Legal
  on
May 1, 2018

Before, during, and after the walkout, I talked to superintendents and school leaders about its legal and practical aspects and how each of their districts was, or had the potential to be, affected. It was fascinating to be in the school business during this time and to experience working with them through many issues none of us had yet encountered.  

Before the walkout, questions arose about how (or if) it was to be dealt with at the board level. For the most part, boards, school administration, teachers and community members were on the same page. There were quite a few resolutions passed by boards granting teachers their full and open-ended support in advance of the walkout.

Image from MSNBC

Once it became clear that the walkout was going to be fairly extensive, quite a few school leaders with whom I spoke peacefully went back into session and either allowed their teachers to take personal leave or sent a small representative delegation for the remaining days. The leader of one school whose teachers and some administrators stayed at the Capitol through the duration of the walkout said he polled his teachers regularly to determine their wishes but was prepared to ensure students and teachers were back in the classroom had the walkout gone into a third week.

What if it had? Boards could have ordered their teachers back to work when it was determined that additional school closure was becoming too detrimental to students and families. Teachers who refused would technically have a dispute with the board, so might their continued walkout then be considered to violate the statutory no-strike provision? What about ordering teachers back to work in districts where the boards that had passed resolutions unconditionally supporting the walkout? It would’ve been interesting to see the logistics of what a board’s official “un-doing” of that act might have looked like.

Fortunately, we didn’t have the opportunity to deal with the aforementioned, among other potential issues, had the walkout gone further. School resumed and everyone moved forward. In the weeks following, I asked administrators how, or if, anything had changed in their schools. One superintendent told me that the relationship with his teachers seemed slightly strained once school resumed. Another administrator said the walkout actually helped strengthen the administration’s bond with the teachers. Others said everyone was simply focused on getting back to normal and wrapping up the school year.  

My reflections on the experiences of some of our schools during the walkout are of course only anecdotal. They do, however, provide a small snapshot of how schools responded throughout the duration of an historic event.

About the Author

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Terri Thomas

Director of Legal Services

Terri Thomas serves as Director of Legal Services for OPSRC.  Ms. Thomas is an attorney practicing exclusively in the area of Oklahoma school law, with a primary focus on rural and smaller school districts. Prior to OPSRC, she served as legal counsel for the Organization of Rural Oklahoma Schools (OROS) from 1999 to 2015 and represents many school districts throughout all parts of the state.

It’s no accident that Terri wound up practicing school law.  She grew up in the school business. Terri’s father, the late Howard Thomas, was a school superintendent for 25 years in several Oklahoma school districts, including Pauls Valley—Terri’s hometown—and Ardmore. After graduating from Pauls Valley High School, Terri received her bachelor’s degree in Finance from Southern Methodist University and her Juris Doctor from the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

She and her husband, Norman Thompson, and their 8-year old daughter, Mary, reside in Oklahoma City.

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