Oklahoma Schools Boss Ryan Walters and His China Conspiracy Theory

A Chinese-made Graco car seat is visible behind Oklahoma Superintendent for Public Instruction Ryan Walters as he sits in his vehicle, going full-out nuts in a video he would then post on X (formerly Twitter.)

“Good afternoon, Oklahomans, I’ve been looking more and more into what’s going on at Tulsa Public Schools, and it’s just been unbelievable to find out that they’re one of the only schools in the country taking money from the Chinese government,” he says in the Aug. 3 post first reported by Tulsa World and the Oklahoman.

Walters looks and sounds like a right-wing zealot as he alleges that the Tulsa Public Schools is accepting money intended to sabotage America.

“You have communist China that is giving money to Tulsa public schools in order to try to undermine our United States government, our country,” Walters continues. “It’s unbelievable.”

One reason it may be unbelievable is the fact that it does not appear to be true. The Tulsa Public Schools did have one high school teacher, Lin Tao, of Booker T. Washington High School, attend a professional development program at the International Leadership of Texas. The Texas entity partners with Confucius Classroom, which is linked to the Chinese Ministry of Education. But Tulsa Public Schools pays Tao’s salary. Not so much as a yuan comes from China.

“Tulsa Public Schools does not receive money from the Chinese government, as Oklahoma State Superintendent Walters has alleged without evidence,” the Tulsa Public Schools said in a statement to The Daily Beast on Monday.

When reached by the Daily Beast, Lin Tao sounded a lot less like somebody who is party to undermining America than a teacher who is what every kid in America should have.

“All I want to do is give the best to my students,” she said.

Tao sounded wary and ended the interview after that. She had good reason to be careful. Back in August of 2022, Walters called for a Norman high school English teacher named Summer Boismier to lose her teaching license for providing students with a QR code that linked to banned books via the Brooklyn Public Library. The teacher had already resigned, saying she did not think she could accommodate Oklahoma’s new anti-woke edicts.

And in recent days, Walters has been talking about stripping the entire Tulsa School system of its accreditation, at least ostensibly due to poor academic performance, but also because it perpetuates “radical left ideology.”

Walters has in the past described teachers unions as “terrorist organizations.” but he is the one who is scaring teachers across Oklahoma. Jamie Lee, a U.S. government and history teacher in the Tulsa suburb of Bixby, told The Daily Beast that she and her colleagues are required by state law to cover the Tulsa Race Massacre and the Holocaust, but are also required to do so without talking about race or making the subject matter controversial. And they know that their ultimate judge is Walters, who caused a stir last month by insisting that the Tulsa Race Massacre was not about race.

“And so then it’s just a constant fear of someone misinterpreting what you’re talking about or someone just not liking what you’re saying,” she said. “You’re constantly fearful of ‘What if a parent who doesn’t like what I’m saying gets a hold of my lesson plan, takes it to the State [Education] Department and complains about me and I just lose my job overnight.’”

When it comes to China, Walters’ information apparently originates from such right-wing outfits as Parents Defending Education, which released a report late last month titled “Little Red Classroom: China’s Infiltration of American K-12 Schools.” The report includes Tulsa among seven school districts supposedly with “Chinese government backed programming,” adding to the paranoia by noting they are “near 20 U.S. military bases.”

The Parents Defending Education report prompted a July 30 Daily Mail story headlined “Now China is Funding America’s Public Schools.” The article included a map of the “School District with ‘Little Little Red Classrooms’ Still in Operation.” They prominently include Tulsa Public Schools.

It’s just a constant fear of someone misinterpreting what you’re talking about or someone just not liking what you’re saying.

Jamie Lee

It would seem likely that Walters would target a teacher who participates in a program that he describes as part of an effort to undermine America, but he might have a harder time bullying Tao than some other teachers. Tao’s classroom was one of the stops when Frank Brogan, then U.S. assistant secretary of education for elementary and secondary, visited Booker T. Washington High School and two other Oklahoma schools three years ago. He was accompanied by U.S. Rep. Kevin Hern (OK-01), who issued a press release.

“Within moments of walking into Lin Tao’s International Baccalaureate Chinese classroom, where fourth-year students were working on a writing assignment, Brogan marveled at the fluency with which Tao’s students spoke Chinese as they bantered with her,” the release said.

The release quoted Tao telling Brogan, “I always say about the kids: How far you push them—that’s how far they can get.”

Last year, two of Yao’s students placed among the top three in the 2022 National Chinese Language Speech Contest. Kailen Brown finished first out of more than 550 contestants. Hericberto Hernandez finished third.

Meanwhile, the school system where Walters terrorizes and demoralizes teachers ranks 47th in the nation.

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