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Students return to renovated classrooms in Webbers Falls after long recovery from flood

WEBBERS FALLS — Kindergarten teacher Lori Menie said she cried when she saw her classroom as just a shell during the summer. It had been mucked out and gutted. Before that, though, she had to see what could be saved.

“It was sad,” Menie said. “When you come in and it was all slick and slippery, it was sad.”

She was able to save some books and supplies on the high shelves along a row of cupboards. Some were part of a set, she said, and the other parts of those sets were on the lower shelves that had been under water.

But by Monday morning, her classroom was clean and nearly complete; a few odds and ends remained.

It was Menie’s first day to teach in her classroom since the May flood. Monday was the first day of classes for Webbers Falls Public Schools.

“I don’t have a board to write on, but we’ll make do,” Menie said. “I’ll write on the tables.”

She said she would put paper over her tables before writing on them.

The school had 290 students at the end of last school year. This year, as of Monday, 306 students were pre-enrolled, said Lisa Ward, high school principal. Parents were still enrolling children Monday morning.

Some renovation work will continue around the campus, but Ward said the main school building was ready for learning. The school day will start at 8:20 a.m. weekdays this year. In previous years, it started at 8:45 a.m.; Ward said the earlier start time should make up for lost days of instruction.

School officials twice delayed the school’s first day. They first pushed the start date back to Sept. 3. As that deadline approached, school officials pushed it back a little further, until Monday. From early June and up to Monday, school officials essentially had three months to build a school.

About 80% of the town was affected by the May flood. Floodwater — between 6 inches and 2 feet — got into homes, the police station, the schools, businesses and the First Baptist Church.

The Arkansas River at Muskogee, which is upstream from Webbers Falls, rose to about 45 feet from May 24 to May 31 before water began to significantly recede. The flood stage there is 28 feet. The river was at roughly 46 feet for three days, May 25-27.

Metal rusted. Textbooks, wooden floors and doors that got soaked were thrown out. Heating and air conditioning units had to be replaced and the school kitchen rebuilt.

“Oh, my God, it’s completely changed!” a middle-school student said, walking in for his first day.

School officials and volunteers have made trips to Krebs, Haileyville, Muskogee and Tulsa to pick up donated supplies. Teachers from Broken Arrow to Weatherford — across the state in western Oklahoma — boxed up what they could for Webbers Falls teachers.

Back in Menie’s classroom, there were some small infrastructure changes during the renovation that, though unexpected, would benefit her kindergarteners. Menie has new cupboards and shelves in her classroom.

Prior to the flood, those cupboards were built high toward the ceiling, so some of her students would get on their tip toes to reach them and others might have to ask for help.

As her students arrived Monday morning, Menie walked them to their cupboards, labeled with their names. As class began, Menie directed her students to a colorful rug in the middle of her classroom.

“Let’s all sit down,” she told the class. “Let’s spread out a little because we got two more friends we got to fit in.”

Epic Charter Schools wants investigation of state senator, but pro tem says 'no plans for an investigation at this time'

Epic Charter Schools fired back Monday at a state senator who has been raising questions about the legality of its student attendance practices.

The school is accusing Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, of “intentional misrepresentation of legal guidance given to him by two state agencies” and defamation of the school. In a news release issued Monday afternoon, Epic vowed to request an investigation by Oklahoma Senate leadership into the propriety of Sharp’s using Senate staff to issue press releases the school believes to be defamatory.

Asked to respond to Epic’s press release, Aaron Cooper, communications director for Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said: “The Senate has no plans for an investigation at this time.”

Shelly Hickman, Epic’s assistant superintendent of communications, said: “The most valuable currency an elected official has with the public it serves is his or her integrity and their honesty. The records obtained by Epic from the two state agencies who regulate us clearly show this elected official’s integrity and honesty should be much more scrutinized.”

Sharp said Aug. 12 email responses he received from Rebecca Wilkinson, executive director of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, one of Epic’s two school sponsors, “were explicit that Epic is not in compliance to Oklahoma statutes and administrative rules.”

“Subsequently, this violation of enrollment policy is costing Oklahoma taxpayers millions,” Sharp said. “I am not reporting anything that most senators are not already aware. However, I will be happy to report all that I know to them upon request.”

In mid-July, Sharp issued the first in a series of news releases questioning how Epic could have received millions of dollars in state funding the previous two years for 3,000 to 4,000 students in middle and high school when the Epic Blended Learning Centers in which they were enrolled could be attended only by students in early education and elementary school grades.

Trump says peace talks with Taliban are now 'dead'

WASHINGTON — U.S. peace talks with the Taliban are now “dead,” President Donald Trump declared Monday, two days after he abruptly canceled a secret meeting he had arranged with Taliban and Afghan leaders aimed at ending America’s longest war.

Trump’s remark to reporters at the White House suggested that he sees no point in resuming a nearly yearlong effort to reach a political settlement with the Taliban, whose protection of al-Qaida extremists in Afghanistan prompted the U.S. to invade after the 9/11 attacks.

Asked about the peace talks, Trump said: “They’re dead. They’re dead. As far as I’m concerned, they’re dead.”

It’s unclear whether Trump will go ahead with planned U.S. troop cuts and how the collapse of his talks will play out in deeply divided Afghanistan.

Trump said his administration is “looking at” whether to proceed with troop reductions that had been one element of the preliminary deal with the Taliban struck by presidential envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.

“We’d like to get out, but we’ll get out at the right time,” Trump said.

What had seemed like a potential deal to end America’s longest war unraveled, with Trump and the Taliban blaming each other for the collapse of nearly a year of U.S.-Taliban negotiations in Doha, Qatar.

The insurgents are now promising more bloodshed, and American advocates of withdrawing from the battlefield questioned on Monday whether Trump’s decision to cancel what he called plans for a secret meeting with Taliban and Afghan leaders at the Camp David, Maryland, presidential retreat over the weekend had poisoned the prospects for peace.

“The Camp David ploy appears to have been an attempt to satisfy Trump’s obsession with carefully curated public spectacles — to seal the deal, largely produced by special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban negotiators, with the president’s imprimatur,” said John Glaser, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.

Trump has been talking of a need to withdraw U.S. troops from the “endless war” in Afghanistan since his 2016 presidential campaign. He said anew in a tweet on Monday, “We have been serving as policemen in Afghanistan, and that was not meant to be the job of our Great Soldiers, the finest on earth.”

He added, without explanation, “Over the last four days, we have been hitting our Enemy harder than at any time in the last ten years.”

There has been no evidence of a major U.S. military escalation.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended Trump’s weekend moves.

“When the Taliban tried to gain negotiating advantage by conducting terror attacks inside of the country, President Trump made the right decision to say that’s not going to work,” Pompeo said Sunday.

Trump said he called off negotiations because of a recent Taliban bombing in Kabul that killed a U.S. service member, even though nine other Americans have died since June 25 in Taliban-orchestrated violence. But the emerging agreement had started unraveling days earlier after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani postponed his trip to Washington and the Taliban refused to travel to the U.S. before a deal was signed, according to a former senior Afghan official.

As Trump’s reelection campaign heats up, his quest to withdraw the remaining 13,000 to 14,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan remains unfulfilled.

At the Pentagon on Monday, spokesman Jonathan Hoffman declined to comment on the outlook for the administration’s plan to reduce the U.S. troop level in Afghanistan to 8,600.

Democrats said Trump’s decision to nix a deal with the Taliban was evidence that he was moving too quickly to get one. Far from guaranteeing a cease-fire, the deal included only Taliban commitments to reduce violence in Kabul and neighboring Parwan province, where the U.S. has a military base.

The Taliban have refused to negotiate with the Afghan government it sees as illegitimate and a puppet of the West. So the Trump administration tried another approach, negotiating with the Taliban first to get a deal that would lead to Taliban talks with Afghans inside and outside the government.

Some administration officials, including national security adviser John Bolton, did not back the agreement with the Taliban as it was written, a U.S. official familiar with the negotiations said. They don’t think the Taliban can be trusted. Bolton advised the president to draw down the U.S. force to 8,600 — enough to counter terror threats — and “let it be” until a better deal can be hammered out, the official said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

Khalilzad, the lead U.S. negotiator, recently announced that he had reached an agreement in principle with the Taliban. Under the deal, the U.S. would withdraw about 5,000 U.S. troops within 135 days of signing. In exchange, the insurgents agreed to reduce violence and prevent Afghanistan from being used as a launch pad for global terror attacks, including from a local Islamic State affiliate and al-Qaida.

Pompeo said the Taliban agreed to break with al-Qaida — something that past administrations have failed to get the Taliban to do.

The insurgent group hosted al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden as he masterminded the 9/11 attacks in 2001. After the attacks, the U.S. ousted the Taliban, which had ruled Afghanistan with a harsh version of Islamic law from 1996 to 2000.

But problems quickly emerged. On Thursday, a second Taliban car bomb exploded near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, killing 12 people including a U.S. soldier. Khalilzad abruptly returned to Doha, Qatar, for more negotiations with the Taliban. He has since been recalled to Washington.

It’s unclear if the talks will resume because the Taliban won’t trust future deals they negotiate with the U.S. if they think Trump might then change course, according to the former senior Afghan official, who was not authorized to discuss the issue and spoke only on condition of anonymity. The official, who has discussed the peace process with U.S. and Afghan officials, said Khalilzad’s team was not aware of Trump’s plans to tweet the end of the talks Saturday evening.

Trump’s suspension of the negotiations “will harm America more than anyone else,” the Taliban said in a statement.

The former Afghan official said the deal fell apart for two main reasons. First, the Taliban refused to sign an agreement that didn’t state the end date for a complete withdrawal of American forces. That date was to be either November 2020, the same month of the U.S. presidential election, or January 2021, he said.

The U.S.-Taliban agreement was to be followed by Taliban talks with Afghans inside and outside the government to chart a political future for the country. Ghani told Khalilzad that putting a withdrawal date in the agreement would undermine the all-Afghan discourse before it began.

Secondly, the U.S. was unsuccessful in convincing Ghani to postpone the Afghan presidential election set for Sept. 28, the official said. The U.S. argued that if the elections were held and Ghani won, his opponents and other anti-Ghani factions would protest the results, creating a political crisis that would make the all-Afghan talks untenable. Other disagreements included why the deal did not address the Taliban’s linkages to Pakistan and prisoner-hostage exchanges, the official said.

More than 60 employers featured at Tulsa World's Career Fair on Tuesday

One of the Tulsa World’s most popular events is Tuesday, when local employers looking to fill positions will be at the annual fall career fair.

The event is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the River Spirit Expo building at Expo Square, 4145 E. 21st St., and is open to the public.

More than 60 local employers will be on location. Job seekers should dress professionally and plan to bring printed copies of their resumes and also have an electronic version available to apply online in person.

“Our career fair twice a year helps connect thousands of Tulsans to local employers looking to fill jobs,” Tulsa World Marketing Manager Ashley Parrish said. “This event is rooted in the Tulsa World’s commitment to not only offer original reporting every day but also serve our community.”

A variety of positions are open, including jobs in health care, food service, manufacturing and more. If you aren’t able to attend, the Tulsa World’s job website at shows updated job openings.

Learn more about the career fair at