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Ryal school board may have violated open meeting laws, attorney says

An attorney representing suspended Ryal Public Schools superintendent Scot Trower said the district's school board violated open meeting laws when it took action against his client Monday night.
by Andrew Knittle Modified: March 6, 2013 at 9:51 pm •  Published: March 7, 2013

“The board, under the Open Meeting Act, can let whoever it wants to into the executive session,” he said, “to hear information from them, to talk to them ... but then the board has to come out and vote.”

“I've never heard of it being a violation for the board to let someone in to talk to them.”

Comments caused stir

After Monday night's school board meeting, officials said Trower was suspended because of comments he made to The Oklahoman in late February.

In the article, the superintendent described the district's students as children of poverty — some of them fourth-generation.

Trower commented that many of the students don't eat unless they are at school, and many of their families don't value education.

“Their families don't see a need for an education past the eighth grade,” Trower said last month. “How do you get past that?”

Trower also made comments about high levels of drug addiction, alcoholism and other criminal behavior while driving near an area called Ryal Bottoms, where many of the district's students live.

Robert Bennett, the school board president, said many of the district's parents were angered by Trower's comments.

“The story portrayed the Ryal community in a very negative light,” Bennett said following Monday night's meeting. “The vast majority of our kids live in houses with electricity. They do have shoes. Their parents do work.

“Lots of our students go on to be schoolteachers, doctors, lawyers and professionals.”

When reached by phone Wednesday, Trower said he could not comment on the suspension or the things he said to The Oklahoman last month.

O'Carroll said his client did nothing wrong and doesn't deserve to be suspended, or in any kind of trouble.

“The community is exactly the way it is described in the article,” the attorney said. “The facts are accurate.

“There's a tremendous amount of poverty ... and the majority of the community could aptly be described as poor.”

Ryal Public Schools, which serves roughly 70 students just south of Henryetta, is among the poorest in the state, data provided by the state Education Department show.

An analysis by The Oklahoman shows a correlation between poverty and the state A-F school evaluation system.

Poorer schools tend to have lower letter grades. Schools in wealthier areas tend to score higher.

Ryal, which would be expected to score lower, earned a B when the latest grades were announced, the same as some schools in Edmond and Norman.

Contributing: Staff Writers Matt Dinger and Carrie Coppernoll

by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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