The race to lead the Oklahoma City School Board was narrowed from three candidates to two Tuesday morning when the Oklahoma County Election Board decided to remove one of the contestants from the ballot.
Former Douglass High School administrator Marcia Muhammad will not be an option for voters because she pleaded guilty in 2001 to two felony counts of falsely obtaining food stamps. Her three-year sentence was deferred.
State law bars anyone who is convicted or pleads guilty to misdemeanor embezzlement or any felony from running for public office for 15 years after the sentence is served.
School Board Chairwoman Angela Monson contested Muhammad's eligibility.
The election board voted 2-0 to remove Muhammad from the ballot.
“We have to look at the evidence we're given and follow the law,” Election Board Chairman Anita DeToy said.
Lynne Hardin is now the only person opposing Monson for her at-large position on the school board. The election will be Feb. 12.
The hearing lasted less than 45 minutes. Muhammad's ineligibility was apparent, said Ken Nance, an attorney representing Monson.
“The statute is very clear,” Nance said. “She pled guilty. She's disqualified from serving on a school board.”
Nance called Muhammad to testify, but she declined.
Muhammad presented a background check of herself she picked up from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. The document showed her arrest, but not the guilty plea.
The guilty plea Muhammad entered in 2001 was what election board members were interested in.
“Under the statute, that's all you need,” Secretary Doug Sanderson said.
Criminal history doesn't preclude someone from filing for office, Sanderson said. Filing forms do not ask about criminal convictions.
After the hearing, Muhammad and Monson spoke quietly as others left the room at the election board office. The two have known each other since childhood, Monson said.
“Her commitment to our children is very clear,” Monson said. “It's consistent.”
Monson said the victory wasn't personally gratifying, but it was necessary.
“It's important the law be followed,” she said, “and the county Election Board did just that.”
Muhammad said she doesn't begrudge Monson. She said she is grateful to at least have her concerns heard.
“It's always been about the children with me,” Muhammad said. “We agreed to work together. We agreed to go forward together.”
Muhammad said she will consider running for school board when she becomes eligible.
“Not this race,” she said. “But the race for the education of our children? Always.”
Muhammad began her career with Oklahoma City Public Schools as a substitute teacher from 1991-99, according to district records.
In June 2001, she began working as a math teacher at Douglass. Three months later, she pleaded guilty to food stamp fraud.
Muhammad worked for the district until 2004, and had three other positions: dean of instruction at Star Spencer High School, computer teacher at Capitol Hill High School and night school principal at Emerson High School.
She then broke employment with the school district, a district spokeswoman said.
But soon after, she was rehired as the assistant principal of Northeast Academy in 2004.
Because her sentence was deferred, she could still be rehired, said Laura Holmes, an attorney who represents Oklahoma City Public Schools and works for the Center for Education Law.
After three years at Northeast, Muhammad worked a year as the assistant principal of Star Spencer.
She then was transferred to Douglass in July 2008. The Douglass principal, Brian Staples, objected to her transfer to his school after working with her previously at Northeast Academy.
In 2010, Muhammad was put on administrative leave. Shortly after, Staples was attacked in the school parking lot.
Staples recommended to the school board in June 2011 she be fired for disobedience, and she was.
Last year, Muhammad's son was arrested in connection with the attack on Staples. Controversy at Douglass did not end when Muhammad was fired.
In June, the NAACP accused Staples of altering grades and attendance records, and an investigation followed.
Muhammad was among those leading the charge for Staples to be fired. She filed a complaint against Staples with the U.S. Department of Education.
Staples resigned last month.
The statute is very clear. She pled guilty. She's disqualified from serving on a school board.”
Attorney representing School Board Chairwoman Angela Monson