An Oklahoma teacher gave her students access to banned books—now she’s under scrutiny
Oklahoma’s top education official wants to strip a former teacher of her credentials after she tried to give students access to books that may be banned in schools under a new state law.
In a letter he tweeted on Wednesday, Oklahoma Secretary of Education Ryan Walters called on the state board of education to revoke the teaching certificate of Summer Boismier, a former teacher at Norman High School.
Days earlier, Boismier resigned her position at the school following a complaint from a parent who suggested that Boismier had made political comments in the classroom.
According to the Norman Transcript, Boismier put paper over her classroom bookshelves with the message, “Books the state doesn’t want you to read,” in response to HB 1775, a state law enacted in May that restricts what public school educators can say about race and gender.
Boismier also posted a QR code that directed students to the Brooklyn Public Library’s Books Unbanned project, which gives young people across the country access to books that may be outlawed in their schools.
Republican-led states like Oklahoma are increasingly banning specific books or attempting to limit the discussion of topics such as race and sexuality in schools.
Boismier declined NPR’s request for comment about Walters’ call to revoke her teaching certificate.
She previously told Gothamist that posting the QR code for her 10th-grade students was an effort to allow them to read materials that were restricted by the state.
“I saw this as an opportunity for my kids who were seeing their stories hidden to skirt that directive,” she said. “Nowhere in my directives did it say we can’t put a QR code on a wall.”
Wes Moody, a spokesperson for Norman Public Schools, said the issue did not center around the QR code Boismier displayed in the classroom, but didn’t specify what the issue was. A statement from the district alleged that Boismier made “personal political statements” and made a “political display” in the classroom.
But Walters, in his letter, suggested that Boismier gave students access to “banned and pornographic” material – without giving specifics – and cited that as justification to revoke her teaching certificate. “There is no place for a teacher with a liberal political agenda in the classroom,” he said, adding that officials must “ensure she doesn’t go to another district and do the same thing.”
Walters did not reply to NPR’s request for an interview.
Rob Crissinger, a spokesperson for the Oklahoma State Department of Education, told NPR that the department is not currently planning to file an application to revoke Boismier’s teaching certificate.
“There is a process in place, and we understand Norman is reviewing this matter at the local level at this time,” Crissinger said. “Based on their review, we will proceed accordingly but there is no reason to speculate on anything regarding Norman Public Schools until their local review is concluded.”
Moody said Norman High School students never had access to pornographic material and added that the district had no response to Walters’ letter.
The district, in its statement about Boismier’s resignation, said some colleagues shared her concerns about HB 1775. “Like many educators the teacher has concerns regarding censorship and book removal by the Oklahoma state legislature,” the statement said. “However, as has always been our expectation, we want our classrooms to be places where ALL students feel welcome.”
If Boismier were to face any discipline from the state board of education, she would be the first teacher to do so for violating HB 1775, according to NPR member station KOSU.
Linda E. Johnson, president and CEO of Brooklyn Public Library, said in a statement to NPR that the library continued to support Boismier.
“The democratic principles on which both our nation and public libraries were founded include the right of every individual to seek information from all points of view,” Johnson said. “Brooklyn Public Library stands firmly with Summer Boismier and all who champion free expression, intellectual freedom, and the right to read.”