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Teacher shortage: State to begin crackdown on emergency certifications for nonaccredited teachers

State leaders are rolling out new limitations to try to stem Oklahoma’s surging tide of emergency certifications for nonaccredited teachers.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education issued new guidance to public schools across the state this week that places new requirements and restrictions on would-be teachers of the youngest students.

At their monthly meeting Thursday, a couple of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s newly appointed members on the Oklahoma State Board of Education also indicated they would be more carefully scrutinizing emergency certification requests submitted for their approval in the future.

“This guidance initially came from our Teacher Shortage Task Force as a recommendation to better equip literacy in early grades,” State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister told the Tulsa World. “There is a strong correlation between teacher preparedness and student achievement. As the Legislature appropriated back-to-back years of teacher pay raises and new funds into the classrooms, it called for a review for how emergency certified teachers for our youngest learners were considered by the (education) department and state Board.”

Limitations and requirements announced this week include:

Effective immediately, pre-kindergarten through third-grade teachers without a relevant degree or work experience must complete required state training before Nov. 15 or risk losing their emergency certification Dec. 31.

Beginning July 2020, pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers will not be considered unless they have successfully completed an academic major in early or elementary education, child development, or a closely related field; or an academic minor in early or elementary education, child development, or a closely related field, plus have documentation of six months relevant, full-time work or volunteer experience; or passed a relevant Oklahoma Subject Area Test; or have completed at least one year of closely related full-time work experience.

Incomplete applications will not be considered.

Completed applications and all required supporting documentation must be submitted to the state’s certification office at least 14 calendar days in advance for it to be considered for approval at a State Board of Education meeting.

Oklahoma public schools hired 3,038 nonaccredited teachers to work in classrooms in 2018-19, representing a 54% increase over the previous school year’s 1,975.

The upward trend looks to continue as 1,666 emergency certifications, including 829 renewals, have already been approved by the state Board of Education for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Applications for emergency certifications used to be a rarity, with just 32 emergency teaching certificates approved in a single year in 2011-12.

But as Oklahoma plunged into a statewide teacher shortage almost six years ago, school districts became increasingly reliant on these new hires who had not yet completed the state’s requirements for either traditional or alternative certification.

The certificates allow individuals to be employed as teachers for up to two years before they complete the education or training requirements for regular or alternative certification. Some are certified teachers who lack certification in the subject matter or grade level in which they are needed to teach, but the vast majority are newcomers to education.

School superintendents have to certify to the state that no certified candidates were available to fill a position they wish to fill with someone who needs an emergency certificate.

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'Infinite thumbs up': New splash park opens at Chandler Park to delight of children, parents

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Featured Video: Massive new splash pad opens at Chandler Park

Read the story: New splash park opens at Chandler Park to delight of children, parents

When she was growing up, Rachel Bausili would go to Chandler Park to hike and climb boulders.

“But there wasn’t stuff for little kids,” she said Friday.

Now, there is. The Chandler Park splash park opened Friday morning, and one of the hundreds of children shrieking and scuttling their way up and down slides, under faux palm trees raining down water and through jets of H2O spurting from the ground, was one of her five children.

Elena Bausili is 7.

“I would give it infinite thumbs up,” she said, a big smile creasing her tiny face.

Mom loved it, too.

“It’s expensive to do anything with a large family, so free things for our (children’s) ages are always good,” Rachel Bausili said.

Tulsa County officials gathered Friday for a grand opening that began at 10 a.m. It was brief, thank goodness, because a large crowd of eager children had gathered, and speeches were not what they had come for.

“I expected a really good turnout,” said Tulsa County Parks Director Richard Bales. “But I think I’m actually blown away by the amount of people who were here at 10 o’clock that are still here this morning after 11.

“And I am confident that there will be a large amount of people here all the time now for the rest of the season.”

The splash park is part of $3 million in improvements to Chandler Park that were funded through Tulsa County’s Vision 2025 and Vision Tulsa sales-tax packages. The funds also paid for a new playground, two covered picnic areas, a parking lot and fencing.

Every corner of the splash park and playground was packed Friday, and it was hard to find a seat under the picnic pavilions. Food trucks offered hamburgers, ice cream and ice pops. And the weather was perfect: sunny but not too hot and not too humid.

“It’s great. It’s awesome,” Laura Bond said. “Especially for a public park. There is nothing like this.”

Bond and her 8-year-old son, Liam, made the trip from Mounds.

“He is having a great time,” she said, as she looked out into a raucous sea of children. “He has been up and down these (slides). He hasn’t come back yet.”

Bales is confident people will come back to the splash park as often as possible until it closes at the end of September. It will be open every day, weather permitting, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission is free.

Tulsa County Parks once operated four pools, including one at Chandler Park. Now, there are only two — at LaFortune Park and South County/Glenpool.

Bales said he and his staff have been working for two years to come up with another water feature to offer county residents.

“I knew when we were going to get away from the pools, I knew we had to do something really different and exciting for the public,” Bales said.

And they have. The splash park includes 31 elements, enough to keep the toughest critics of all, children, entertained for hours.

“It’s more like a water park than a plain splash pad,” Melissa Szabo said.

She had just spent an hour at the park with two children she was baby-sitting.

“It was awesome, a lot of fun,” Szabo said as she headed to her car. “The kids didn’t even want to leave. I would definitely tell people, come early.”

High court allows use of Pentagon funds for border wall

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court cleared the way Friday for the Trump administration to tap billions of dollars in Pentagon funds to build sections of a border wall with Mexico.

The court’s five conservative justices gave the administration the greenlight to begin work on four contracts it has awarded using Defense Department money. Funding for the projects had been frozen by lower courts while a lawsuit over the money proceeded. The court’s four liberal justices wouldn’t have allowed construction to start.

The justices’ decision to lift the freeze on the money allows President Donald Trump to make progress on a major 2016 campaign promise heading into his race for a second term. Trump tweeted after the announcement: “Wow! Big VICTORY on the Wall. The United States Supreme Court overturns lower court injunction, allows Southern Border Wall to proceed. Big WIN for Border Security and the Rule of Law!”

The Supreme Court’s action reverses the decision of a trial court, which initially froze the funds in May, and an appeals court, which kept that freeze in place earlier this month. The freeze had prevented the government from tapping approximately $2.5 billion in Defense Department money to replace existing sections of barrier in Arizona, California and New Mexico with more robust fencing.

The case the Supreme Court ruled in began after the 35-day partial government shutdown that started in December of last year. Trump ended the shutdown in February after Congress gave him approximately $1.4 billion in border wall funding. But the amount was far less than the $5.7 billion he was seeking, and Trump then declared a national emergency to take cash from other government accounts to use to construct sections of wall.

The money Trump identified includes $3.6 billion from military construction funds, $2.5 billion in Defense Department money and $600 million from the Treasury Department’s asset forfeiture fund.

The case before the Supreme Court involved just the $2.5 billion in Defense Department funds, which the administration says will be used to construct more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) of fencing. One project would replace 46 miles (74 kilometers) of barrier in New Mexico for $789 million. Another would replace 63 miles (101 kilometers) in Arizona for $646 million. The other two projects in California and Arizona are smaller.

The other funds were not at issue in the case. The Treasury Department funds have so far survived legal challenges, and Customs and Border Protection has earmarked the money for work in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley but has not yet awarded contracts. Transfer of the $3.6 billion in military construction funds is awaiting approval from the defense secretary.

The lawsuit at the Supreme Court was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the Sierra Club and Southern Border Communities Coalition. The justices who lifted the freeze on the money did not give a lengthy explanation for their decision. But they said among the reasons they were doing so was that the government had made a “sufficient showing at this stage” that those bringing the lawsuit don’t have a right to challenge the decision to use the money.

ACLU lawyer Dror Ladin said in a statement after the court’s announcement that the fight “is not over.” The case will continue, but the Supreme Court’s decision suggests an ultimate victory for the ACLU is unlikely. Even if the ACLU were to win, fencing will have already been built.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan would not have allowed construction to begin. Justice Stephen Breyer said he would have allowed the government to finalize the contracts for the segments but not begin construction while the lawsuit proceeded. The administration had argued that if it wasn’t able to finalize the contracts by Sept. 30, then it would lose the ability to use the funds. The administration had asked for a decision quickly.

The Supreme Court is on break for the summer but does act on certain pressing items.

Former candidate for governor charged with making violent threats targeting TU following shooting arrest

A man who campaigned for Oklahoma governor in the last election has been charged with threatening an act of violence on the day after he was arrested in connection with a shooting at his residence.

Christopher Jonathan Barnett, 36, was jailed again Thursday evening after he had posted $75,000 bail earlier that day in an unrelated shooting.

A judge set bail in the new case at $1 million Friday morning.

Barnett will be barred from blogging or posting to social media and must forfeit his passport and wear a GPS monitor if he posts bond.

A charge filed Thursday in Tulsa County District Court alleges that Barnett threatened “the University of Tulsa and/or Professor Susan Barrett and/or Winona Tanaka. The said defendant stated he would shoot fans exiting the University of Tulsa football games at halftime.”

On a website Barnett operates called, a page titled “How would Chris Barnett take down TU?” includes the specific threat listed on the criminal charge.

“Wait for football season to come, start getting every single AR-15 put into place on the highest floor,” the blog post states. “Rig up a system that will fire all of the guns at once. … Wait until almost half time or when everyone is leaving the game. When people start to flood the gates to leave, the automatic system built starts firing.”

The page contains a disclaimer at the top that reads: “This is all hypothetical and not a threat and of course will never happen, but it’ll drive the far left crazy so here it goes.”

Tanaka and Barrett are also named in the message. Tanaka was senior vice provost at TU when she suspended Barnett’s now-husband, a student in the theater department, after Barnett posted disparaging messages about TU faculty on social media. The move prompted Barnett and his husband to sue TU.

They allege that Barrett, a professor in the TU theater department, punished Barnett’s husband by accusing him of harassment despite Barnett’s claiming authorship of the messages.

Barnett has not yet been charged in the shooting that occurred about 9 p.m. Thursday at his south Tulsa home. He said he shot a process server in the arm after the man tried to serve him legal papers, but Barnett alleges that the man had pointed a gun.

Barnett had been jailed on a complaint of shooting with intent to kill in that case.

According to an investigator’s affidavit in the threats case, Barnett “has the means to act on the threats that he has made based on firearms located in his residence as well as his most recent history/arrest in conjunct with his Google search ‘can you legally shoot a process server?’”

Special Judge April Seibert set Barnett’s bail at a court appearance Friday morning after hearing arguments from prosecutor Mark Collier and District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler, who asked that Barnett be held without bond.

“We have a series of veiled threats (on blogs and social media) against attorneys, judges, professors at TU, TCC,” Collier told Seibert. “This behavior extends back to 2014 and has created an atmosphere of fear among these people and their families.”

With the shooting Wednesday night, “now he’s acted on at least one of these threats,” Collier said, adding that Barnett has previously made veiled threats against process servers.

Barnett, who was represented by a public defender because his attorney was out of town, reiterated his previous claim that the process server drew his gun first and that he was defending himself.

The process server was reported to be in good condition.

Collier added, “Approximately 10 firearms were found in his (Barnett’s) house, including an assault rifle.”

“We consider him a continuing threat,” he said.

Barnett’s next court appearance, an arraignment, is set for 9 a.m. Aug. 1.

Barnett, 36, was a Republican candidate for Oklahoma governor in 2018. He finished third to last in a field of 10 Republicans in the primary, garnering 5,212 votes.

On his now-removed Facebook page, Barnett said he is running for U.S. Senate in 2020.

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