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Walters announces signing bonuses for rural Oklahoma teachers, despite past controversy

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Walters announces signing bonuses for rural Oklahoma teachers, despite past controversy


The Oklahoma State Department of Education announced it will offer another round of signing bonuses to attract teachers to rural schools. Meanwhile, the agency is reportedly negotiating a settlement agreement with two teachers it paid previous bonuses to in error.

State Superintendent Ryan Walters said on Monday his agency will offer signing bonuses of $15,000 to $25,000 to secondary math and science teachers who agree to work in a public school in rural Oklahoma for the next school year.

A similar signing bonus program from the agency lured more than 500 certified educators back to Oklahoma schools last year, but it stirred significant controversy and attracted scrutiny from lawmakers when a few teachers were later told to return the money they had been paid.

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“I am thrilled to continue bringing in highly qualified teachers to Oklahoma classrooms,” Walters said in a statement. “Oklahoma is a great place to live and work, and we are making it easier than ever for teachers to come to our great state and have an enormous impact on our young people.” 

Eligible teachers cannot have taught in an Oklahoma public school in the 2023-24 school year. They must have a teaching certification for secondary math or science and be hired to teach in a rural school for the 2024-25 year.

The agency provided a list of 384 schools that fit the definition of a rural locale, according to criteria from the National Center for Education Statistics. One school on the list no longer exists, Sovereign Community School.

The Education Department called the program the “most successful teacher recruitment effort in state history.”

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The agency awarded bonuses last year to a handful of teachers who didn’t meet the criteria and, months later, demanded they repay. Walters informed the state Legislature his agency also had mistakenly underpaid other recipients.

Two of the teachers who were told to repay their bonuses, Kay Bojorquez and Kristina Stadelman, sued the department and Walters in Oklahoma County District Court, alleging breach of contract and defamation. 

Their attorney, Mark Hammons, said they have reached a tentative settlement with the Education Department and intend to finalize it this week.

Both teachers were approved for the program and received bonuses of $50,000 in October and November. In January, they received letters from the agency, informing them they never actually qualified and owed the full $50,000 back.

More than $20,000 of each bonus was withheld for taxes, and Bojorquez, of Osage County, and Stadelman, of Oklahoma County, had spent the rest of the money before the Education Department demanded they return it, according to their lawsuit.

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Walters said the errant bonuses were the result of the teachers putting “misinformation” in their applications. That statement was defamatory, Bojorquez and Stadelman said. The teachers asked a judge to order Walters to pay them at least $75,000 each for defamation.

The Education Department and Walters have since countersued the teachers, asking for the full bonuses to be returned plus the cost of attorney fees. The agency said Bojorquez and Stadelman, by applying for and accepting the bonuses, represented that they hadn’t taught in an Oklahoma public school the previous year when, in fact, they had.

The two teachers said they truthfully reported their work history. They contend the situation was caused by the agency’s “own alleged negligence or malfeasance in giving such approval.” 

“It would be financially impossible for the plaintiff to repay the signing bonus,” their lawsuit states.

Oklahoma Voice is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oklahoma Voice maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Janelle Stecklein for questions: info@oklahomavoice.com. Follow Oklahoma Voice on Facebook and Twitter.

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Oklahoma

Latest Updates on Amber Portwood’s Missing Fiancé Gary Wayt: Sighting in Oklahoma, Catelynn Lowell Weighs in On MTV Wanting to Film About It For ‘Teen Mom’ & More

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Latest Updates on Amber Portwood’s Missing Fiancé Gary Wayt: Sighting in Oklahoma, Catelynn Lowell Weighs in On MTV Wanting to Film About It For ‘Teen Mom’ & More


The saga of Amber Portwood‘s missing fiancé continues, as it appears that he is alive and on the move.

Gary Wayt— who recently proposed to the Teen Mom: The Next Chapter star — has been listed as a missing person in North Carolina since Monday. As The Ashley previously reported, Gary (not to be confused with Amber’s baby daddy Gary Shirley) was in North Carolina with Amber to attend the wedding of Amber’s brother Shawn last Saturday. After Amber and Gary got into some sort of disagreement on Sunday, Gary took off in his car–without his cell phone— and hadn’t been seen since. Amber has begged fans to pray for her fiancé, whom she claims she has a “beautiful relationship” with. She also denied having any part in Gary’s disappearance.

On Thursday, however, news broke that Gary was spotted alive in Oklahoma— 900+ miles away from Bryson City, North Carolina, where he was last seen. The Sun broke the news of the Gary sighting, stating that Amber’s betrothed was seen on-camera at an Oklahoma Verizon phone store.

Amber’s manager confirmed to The Ashley on Thursday that police have been able to verify that the man on the Verizon store video was, indeed, Gary.

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Amber’s manager also confirmed, though, that Gary has not contacted Amber or his loved ones. His reason for driving all the way to Oklahoma is unknown at this time. 

“He might not even know he’s a missing person at this point since he hasn’t had his phone and only took his wallet and the car,” a source told The Sun.

Various news outlets have reported on Gary’s disappearance since he was reported missing earlier this week.

Amber, who went Live on YouTube with Elle Bee this week to talk about Gary’s disappearance, has vowed to stay in North Carolina until Gary was located. In fact, her ‘Teen Mom’ co-star Catelynn Lowell confirmed on Wednesday that Maci Bookout was heading to North Carolina to be with Amber in her time of need.

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Catelynn also defended Amber against people online who were speculating that Amber was responsible for Gary’s disappearance and insinuating that Amber hurt him.

“I’ve known Amber for 15 years, ok?” she said during a Live stream with TikTok user @crime.n.missing. “She might fly off the handle sometimes but she’s not going to f**king kill somebody. Come on now. If you guys think that about her, you’re ridiculous…”

Catelynn also denied that she is an “enabler” for Amber.

“I tell her how it is,” Cate insisted. “Me, her and Maci, we’ve known each other for so long that we can tell each other, like, ‘Hey dude, that was f**ked up’ or ‘You shouldn’t have done that’ or whatever. And we listen to each other. Of course, MTV is only going to put on [the show] what they want to put on there.”

Catelynn then revealed that MTV is actually chomping at the bit to film about Amber’s missing fiancé.

“They’re asking me to film myself talking about this whole situation and I’m like, ‘No, I’m not. I’m not exploiting the situation and what Amber’s going through.’ I’m not doing all of that,” Catelynn said. ” I’m going to help her and be a friend.”

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After going Live on Wednesday, Catelynn posted on Instagram Stories to clarify that she wasn’t trying to bash MTV during her Live.

“I did a live on TikTok earlier today talking about the situation with Amber’s fiancé and MTV asking me to talk about it,” Catelynn wrote. “I DID NOT mean anything bad about what I said! Actually @MTV has helped a ton with trying to help us and help the situation. So please don’t get that part twisted. We are all just wanting to find Gary alive and safe!” 

“…And if we can turn this into an episode or two of ‘Teen Mom,’ so be it!”

Catelynn went on to state that Gary and Amber have been engaged longer than the public was led to believe, and that she and Maci were even present when Gary popped the question. 

As of press time, Gary is still listed as a missing person by the Bryson City Police Department. Police are asking the public to contact them with any information regarding Gary’s location.

UPDATE! On Thursday night, TMZ provided more information about the sighting of Gary in Oklahoma. According to Bryson City PD Asst. Chief Wayne Dover, Gary was seen Tuesday morning in Weatherford— a town about an hour from Oklahoma City. Chief Dover stated that witnesses who identified Gary said he “did not seem in distress and had a calm and nonchalant demeanor.”

RELATED STORY: Amber Portwood Asks Fans to Pray For Her Missing Fiancé Gary Wayt & Insists She “Did Not Hurt Him”; Amber’s Ex-Fiance Matt Baier Weighs In

(Photos: Bryson City PD; MTV; Facebook) 

 

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Black community reacts to state Supreme Court decision on Tulsa Race Massacre reparations

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Black community reacts to state Supreme Court decision on Tulsa Race Massacre reparations


In the wake of the state Supreme Court dismissing a lawsuit in which survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre sought reparations, some in the Black community said the court’s decision was expected but they remained disappointed. 

“It’s not surprising, but it is very disappointing,” Tracie Chandler, a Tulsa community activist, said. “I love my country. I love Tulsa. I wanted Tulsa to rise to its highest potential and it has not done that.”

The race massacre is considered one of the worst incidents of domestic terrorism in American history.

Between May 31, 1921, and June 1, 1921, mobs of angry white men stormed the well-established and prosperous Black community of Greenwood, also known as Black Wall Street, in Tulsa. 

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More than 1,000 homes were burned and businesses left in ruins as 35 city blocks were destroyed, and, though just 39 deaths were listed in official records, estimates now put the number at closer to 300.

Because the massacre was originally deemed a riot, the Oklahoma Supreme Court immunized insurance companies from liability in 1926, meaning none of the Black home or business owners could make claims for property loss. 

Survivors Viola Fletcher, Lessie Benningfield Randle and Hughes Van Ellis initially filed a lawsuit for reparations in 2020 against the City of Tulsa, Tulsa Regional Chamber, the Tulsa County Commissioners, Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado and the Oklahoma Military Department.

Van Ellis, the youngest of three, died last year at the age of 102.

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The lawsuit claimed the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre represented an “ongoing public nuisance,” and that “in 2016, the Defendants began enriching themselves by promoting the site of the Massacre as a tourist attraction.”

Last year in Tulsa County District Court, Judge Caroline Wall dismissed the lawsuit. The survivors appealed to the state’s high court. 

The state Supreme Court affirmed Wall’s decision.  

The court found the survivors’ public nuisance claim did not fall within the scope of Oklahoma’s public nuisance statute. 

The court also held that the survivors’ claim of unjust enrichment was not sufficiently supported. 

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“Absent an allegation claiming that Defendants are falsely or fraudulently promising donors that Plaintiffs will share in or benefit from the proceeds of their fundraising efforts, Defendants’ conduct itself is not legally unconscionable,” the court wrote. 

Chandler said Tulsa is benefiting from the massacre through tourism while the survivors and descendants lost untold wealth. 

“These survivors have received nothing outside of an apology,” Chandler said. “These people lost everything. That was generational wealth lost and the city is getting enriched by it because of the people that are coming here because of the 100th anniversary, because of the museum and because of more people knowing what happened. Tulsa is getting more funds. What about the survivors?” 

In a widely disseminated statement, the city of Tulsa said:

“The City of Tulsa respects the court’s decision and affirms the significance of the work the City continues to do in the North Tulsa and Greenwood communities. Through economic development and policy projects, the 1921 Graves Investigation, and a renewed community vision for the Kirkpatrick Heights & Greenwood Master Plan, the City remains committed to working with residents and providing resources to support the North Tulsa and Greenwood communities.”

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The survivors’ legal team said in a statement they would petition the Oklahoma Supreme Court to reconsider its decision.  

“In 103 years since the Massacre, no court has held a trial addressing the Massacre and no individual or entity has been held accountable for it,” they said. “As justice is delayed once again in the Oklahoma court system, we call upon the United States Department of Justice to open an investigation into the Massacre under the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007.” 

In a statement, state Rep. Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City, echoed the disappointment. 

“Viola Fletcher, Lessie Evelyn Benningfield Randle, and the family of the departed Hughes Van Ellis will never be able to receive their due justice in the state of Oklahoma,” Lowe said. 

Quraysh Ali Lansana, an author, historian and visiting associate professor at the University of Tulsa, said the city of Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma were “complicit in the massacre.”

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“Many Black Oklahomans have lost their trust and their faith in law enforcement and the judicial system, and in city and state government in regards to the issue of being Black in Oklahoma,” Lansana said. 

Lansana said the court’s decision is a “telling reminder of the state of racial justice when it comes to Black folks.”

“It is really disheartening,” he said. 



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Oklahoma Couple Discusses Their YouTube Journey, Finding Success Online

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Oklahoma Couple Discusses Their YouTube Journey, Finding Success Online


Jay and Amber Robinson are the dynamic duo behind Rob Squad Reactions. They talked with News On 6’s LeAnne Taylor about their YouTube channel and musical journey so far.

Thursday, June 13th 2024, 11:06 am

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News On 6

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Think about when you hear a song for the first time and how you might react. Well, that’s the premise behind a YouTube channel that features an Oklahoma couple!

Jay and Amber Robinson are the dynamic duo behind Rob Squad Reactions. They talked with News On 6’s LeAnne Taylor about their online success. | CLICK HERE to see more on their YouTube channel.





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