Patrick B. McGuigan and Stacy Martin
OKLAHOMA CITY – Former Mayor Kirk Humphreys will remain on the board of the downtown John Rex Elementary School. While some school patrons pressed for his ouster from the school he co-founded, others defended him (including some who disagree with the views expressed in a TV program).
Effective January 16, Humphreys moved into a vacant seat on the board of directors, a post with a term ending in 2019. Earlier in January, a dozen John Rex parents wrote a widely circulated letter, defending him. Joining the letter were Kevin & Megan DeShazo, Tara & Eric Silvestri, Marilyn and Myles Davidson, Nikki & Mike Spencer, Reagan & Keri Bradford, Ted and Jerri Jo Kersh.
Calling themselves simply “John Rex parents,” the group wrote:
“As supporters of John Rex, we are fond of the mantra #WeChooseJohnRex. We believe that John Rex is worthy of our attendance, our effort and our support — and will only be made better by our combined contributions. While John Rex is still a work in progress, it is already a tremendous gift to the community, and is on a trajectory to be a great public school for decades to come. This has not happened by accident, but through the careful decision-making, dedicated effort and generous support of the John Rex community. It’s a community made up of students, parents, teachers, administrators, board members, and a range of community partners. And it’s a community that Kirk Humphreys has played a foundational role in creating, sustaining and leading.
“Mr. Humphreys’ central role in John Rex’s creation has made the controversy over these past few weeks a difficult experience for the John Rex community. It is clear from Mr. Humphreys’ apology that he realizes his Flashpoint comments fell short both in content and in tone. We in no way condone his initial comments, but we welcome the subsequent efforts he has made to reconcile with the community, including meeting with LGBT stakeholders and offering a public apology at the headquarters of Freedom Oklahoma.
“Mr. Humphreys’ words fell short, but his track record at John Rex tells a different story. Mr. Humphreys’ contributions to the John Rex community are both numerous and significant. As Mayor of Oklahoma City he led the effort to create Maps for Kids, which dramatically transformed educational facilities throughout Oklahoma City and provided the funding for the construction of John Rex. As a private citizen, Mr. Humphreys has been instrumental in:
• forming the unique partnership with OKCPS that established John Rex Charter Elementary School,
• convening a talented and dedicated board,
• hiring and empowering a dynamic administrative team, and
• bolstering philanthropic support Perhaps most importantly, Mr. Humphreys’ leadership has resulted in the creation of an elementary school we can all be proud of.”
The letter of support concluded, “It’s a school that offers a quality classroom education, unique walking field trip experiences, and a dynamic and diverse community. At John Rex, we don’t just strive for diversity, equity and inclusivity — we exemplify it. It’s the fulfillment of the original vision for John Rex and Kirk Humphreys’ leadership has helped make it a reality.
“We choose John Rex! And are committed to continuing efforts to make it a great school serving a diverse community. Those efforts have been stronger as a result of Kirk Humphreys’ leadership and we support his continued role on the John Rex Board.”
Humphreys responded to the letter on January 8, saying in a statement sent to The City Sentinel and other news organizations:
“I love John Rex and have worked hard to contribute to making it the school it is today. John Rex serves a diverse and inclusive community, and I am proud of the role I have had in helping make that a reality. I regret that I failed to communicate my beliefs graciously and I have apologized to those I have hurt. I am grateful that this past week the community has responded in a understanding way, showing support for my service and encouraging me to continue on the John Rex Board.”
In an exclusive interview with The City Sentinel, Humphreys previously apologized for comments made during a television program.
On January 15, Humphreys was reappointed to the John Rex Board. He was unanimously approved to fill the remaining term of Lyndon Taylor, a member who resigned last year. Humphreys, who had filled a position reserved for the University of Oklahoma (sponsor of the charter school), moved into a spot held by Oklahoma City Quality Schools, a nonprofit.
Attorney Leslie Batchelor and board member Gail Vines (a local businesswoman) said they disagree with views Humphreys expressed, but support his continued involvement with the school. Reporter Tim Willert of The Oklahoman quoted Batchelor saying “we have something much bigger at stake than whether we agree or disagree. There are many things that Kirk and I disagree about. It never stood in the way of our ability to work together on the things we love.
“Not only is Kirk tolerant of our different views but he was always respectful. If we spend all our time quarreling over whether someone’s beliefs disqualify them rather than their actions we won’t move forward.”
Willert reported Vines’ reflections, as well: “I agree with the attorney. I have never heard Kirk speak unfairly, unethically, at any board meeting. I disagree with him completely and I do have a huge problem with separation of church and state.
“But I’ve decided to take, not a self-inflicted higher moral ground, but a ground of all-inclusive, perhaps we can teach an old dog new tricks and vice versa. I’m willing to be open and work together as a community and show some empathy.”
Outside the board dynamic, Humphreys continued to attract a share of critics. In a resolution, the Oklahoma County Democratic party in a January 18 press release assailed Humphreys remarks during a television debate show, saying the beliefs he expressed were “demeaning and bigoted.” The party organization, in a release send by Democratic Party County Chairman Mark Faulk, asserted Humphreys “sets a bad example” for Oklahomans, and called for him to leave the John Rex board.
Humphreys submitted a formal resignation from the OU Board of Regents in a letter to Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin. In doing so, he said, “Serving on the Regents has been a privilege for which I will forever be grateful. Thank you for appointing me and allowing me to serve the people of Oklahoma in this way over these past six years.”
He agreed to cancel a forum that had been scheduled on the OU Campus, saying he did so after discussions with the president of the OU Student Government J.D. Baker. He said, “We have discussed the matter and mutually come to the decision to cancel the forum. We agree that, with my resignation, it is in the best interest of the University, the students and the Board of Regents to focus on the presidential search process and the future of the University.”