Lawyers

Lawyer for OKCPS lecturers fired for not complying with masks requirement says battle isn’t over

NORMAN, Okla. — Five Oklahoma City Public Schools teachers fired for not wearing masks spoke out Thursday during a news conference in Norman.

The board of education voted unanimously Wednesday night to accept Superintendent Sean McDaniel’s recommendation to terminate six teachers’ employment.

The lawyer for five of the teachers said the fight is far from over, adding that this is not a political or anti-mask fight. He said this is all about the rule of law, arguing state law says you cannot require masks in schools.

“Their district was intentionally violating existing state law, and they were not complicit in that,” said Blake Sonne, general counsel with Professional Oklahoma Educators. “They stood up for that, and this is what’s happened to them.”

Sonne spoke for his five clients Thursday, saying he was surprised the board of education voted 6-0 to terminate his clients. The decision came after a five-hour meeting Wednesday, during which the teachers were allowed to give statements.

“Superintendent McDaniel, you broke the law, sir. Not only did you break the law, you asked us to violate our conscience and to break the law in the name of public health. You need to resign, sir,” former Oklahoma City Public Schools teacher Jason Widener said.

Dismay from the audience, mostly people supporting the teachers, followed the board’s decision.

McDaniel has been accused of breaking Senate Bill 658, which went into law this summer. The law blocks school boards from requiring masks, COVID-19 vaccinations or vaccine passports for teachers or students.

The superintendent argues the law does not apply because he’s not part of the board. The teachers’ attorney disagrees.

“Can the superintendent pay his teachers below state minimum because he decides he wants to? No. Can he engage in discrimination against because he’s not the entity of the employer? Absolutely not. It’s a ridiculous argument,” Sonne said.

Oklahoma City Public Schools officials have not released any new statements but said Wednesday night they will continue to require teachers and students to wear masks, with some exceptions.

The teachers are suing the district for damages and possibly their jobs back, but that lawsuit is on hold until the Oklahoma Supreme Court decides whether the state law banning mandates is constitutional.

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