By Jon Watje
Mustang Public Schools continue to make headlines all over the country about their new Bible history curriculum, which was approved by its school board in April. However, one article recently published by the Associated Press has school officials concerned.
The Associated Press published an article on May 21, claiming that Mustang school board members 'broke into small groups with the program's chief backer, the president of Hobby Lobby, to get around an Oklahoma law that requires government bodies to be open to the public.'
The course, entitled 'The Book, the Bible's History, Narrative and Impact of the World's Best Selling Book,' will be offered as an elective to students next school year. Steve Green, president and CEO of Hobby Lobby, visited the school board in November to tell them of the new curriculum that he worked on. He and his family own over 40,000 Bibles and he now oversees 'The Green Collection,' which has grown to be the world's largest private collection of rare biblical texts and artifacts.
Since then, the Mustang School District has received numerous open-records requests from media outlets and organizations, such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The Associated Press was one of the media outlets who obtained Emails that contained correspondence from McDaniel and school board members and recently published an article entitled 'School board members met privately on Bible class.'
Mustang Superintendent Sean McDaniel responded to the article, saying it shed a bad light on Mustang and was far from the truth.
"The article was so far from the truth, it was laughable," McDaniel said.
The article discussed possible violations of the Mustang school board for meeting at Hobby Lobby's headquarters on April 14, before the night of their regular meeting where the approved the new curriculum.
"The April 14 meetings with Steve Green and other members of the Bible curriculum team occurred just hours before the Mustang School Board approved the course as an elective for the fall," said the article, written by Bailey Elise McBride. "The Mustang superintendent acknowledged insisting on separate presentations so the public wouldn't have to be invited, and did so at the direction of Green and his public relations representatives."
McDaniel said the board intended to hold a special meeting to review the digital component of the curriculum.
"We had every intention to hold a special meeting in front of the public, but the schedules of the board members conflicted and we were not able to have a quorum present," McDaniel said. "So instead, we invited all five board members to come to Hobby Lobby's headquarters to see a presentation on the digital aspect of the curriculum."
McDaniel said two board members, Jeff Landrith and Mike Kessler were unable to attend, leaving three members. Board member Amanda Strassle attended a presentation by herself in the morning of April 14 and Dr. Jim Davis and Chad Fulton attended a presentation together later in the afternoon, McDaniel said.
"We had already reviewed the textbook version of the curriculum but we wanted to review the digital portion of it before voting on it," he said. "The law is clear on open meetings and one of the things it says is that you cannot have a quorum without having the meeting posted and in public. There was never a quorum at any time. All we did was eat sandwiches, watch a video and went home."
McDaniel also said no decisions were made.
"The article by the Associated Press mentions that Steve Green and myself were present at both of the meetings with the board members, and that doesn't violate any law because neither of us are board members," he said. "None of the board members were at both presentations."
McDaniel said he spoke with Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, who was quoted in the AP article.
"He confirmed my thought that there was no violation of the Open Meeting Act and that there is no investigation being conducted," he said.
Since the board received the first draft of the Bible history curriculum, it has gone through several revisions.
"Since the rough draft, there have been 12 revisions made in the last six weeks," McDaniel said.
McDaniel said new curriculum at Mustang Public Schools goes through two committees before going before the school board before approval.
"We have a curriculum committee that reviews any new curriculum and that committee is made up of teachers, parents and administrators," he said. "We also have a textbook committee that looks at the textbooks that would be used in the new curriculum."
McDaniel said he invites anyone to come to review the curriculum and textbooks for the course.
"It is unfortunate that the Associated Press published this article because they are all over the globe and this puts a dim view on Mustang and misrepresents what we are doing," he said. "We have been open to the public since day one. Anyone is more than welcome to come ask us questions and review everything we have for the curriculum for this course."
Over 170 have already signed up to take the course next year.