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Democrats push for investigation of Ryan Walters, Oklahoma’s firebrand schools superintendent

A Tulsa-area school district is in its second week of bomb threats after Walters shared a Libs of TikTok post about a school librarian on social media.
Image: Ryan Walters, Oklahoma's school superintendent
Ryan Walters, Oklahoma's schools superintendent, has embraced culture war battles over religion and LGBTQ rights in public schools.Christopher Creese for NBC News

Oklahoma Democrats are calling for an impeachment probe of Ryan Walters, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, citing a range of recent issues, including bomb threats against a school district following one of Walters’ provocative social media posts. 

In a statement Tuesday, state House Democrats said they’ve made a formal request to the GOP speaker to set up a bipartisan committee to investigate whether there’s sufficient evidence to impeach Walters. The Democratic caucus cited Walters’ “consistent pattern of inflammatory language aimed at our public education teachers, outright lies and targeted attacks on local control.”

Walters, a Republican firebrand known for focusing on culture war issues, has ushered in the nation’s first religious charter school, promised to “put God back in schools” and threatened to take over the state’s largest school district in Tulsa, a showdown that pushed out the local superintendent — all within his first eight months in office. 

Most recently, Union Public Schools, a district on the edge of Tulsa, said it has received bomb threats on six consecutive school days. The threats began last week after Walters shared a viral video that drew critical attention to one of the district’s librarians on social media.

“Left and right, people are asking us to get up, stand up and do something to fix things and calm this down,” state Rep. Melissa Provenzano, a Democrat and assistant minority leader, said in an interview. Provenzano’s district includes Union Public Schools. 

Walters’ spokesperson called the House Democrats’ push for an impeachment investigation “shameful.”

“In seeking to remove a popularly elected constitutional officer, they represent a direct threat to our democracy,” Dan Isett, an Oklahoma Department of Education spokesperson, said in an email.

Republicans hold a supermajority in the Oklahoma Legislature, and none of them have voiced support for impeaching Walters.

“Impeachment is not something that should be taken lightly, and the call by a group of House Democrats seems to be more of a ready, fire, aim approach,” Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall said in a statement. Last week, McCall condemned the threats against Union Public Schools and said he’d like to see “political activism surrounding education eliminated,” and that “Oklahoma’s elected leaders should not be adding fuel to the fires of controversy.”

The threats began the same day that Walters retweeted a post from a day earlier on the conservative provocateur account Libs of TikTok, which featured a video of a librarian at Union Public Schools. The video shows the librarian walking next to a book shelf with the text “POV: teachers in your state are dropping like flies but you are still just not quite finished pushing your woke agenda at the public school.” That’s different from the caption that the librarian originally posted on her TikTok account, which Libs of TikTok removed: “My radical liberal agenda is teaching kids to love books and be kind — hbu??”

When Walters retweeted the Libs of TikTok post to his nearly 10,000 followers, he added: “Woke ideology is real and I am here to stop it.” 

The video spread quickly online and has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

Union Public Schools, a district that includes a southeastern portion of Tulsa and adjacent suburbs, said it has received seven rounds of anonymous bomb threats targeting specific schools, its administrative offices, staff home addresses and a local office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. One of the threats, according to a copy shared by the district, stated, “You will stop pushing this woke ideology or we will bomb every school in the union district.” 

The threats have been deemed not credible, according to the Tulsa Police Department, which is investigating the case along with the Broken Arrow Police Department and the FBI. Union Public Schools said it has increased security and swept the buildings each time a threat came in, but it has not canceled classes. 

John Federline, assistant superintendent of Union Public Schools, said last week that nearly a third of the district’s 15,000 students were either absent or picked up early by their parents after the threats. The librarian highlighted by Libs of TikTok and Walters is “tremendously upset,” Federline said.  

“She clearly said that her radical agenda was teaching kids to be kind and to love books — that’s what she said on her original post and that’s something that we would ask of all of our teachers,” he said. 

Chaya Raichik, the California resident who runs Libs of TikTok, which has 2.4 million followers on X, declined to comment and instead emailed an insult. Last year, Boston Children’s Hospital faced several bomb threats after a series of posts by right-wing social media accounts, including Libs of TikTok.

Walters has declined to comment on his post on X and his spokesperson declined Tuesday to comment on the bomb threats. Last week, after the first threat, the department told the Fox 23 TV station in Tulsa, “The issue here is the employee’s actions, that’s why Superintendent Walters commented on it.“

Provenzano said Walters’ social media posts and the bomb threats were the final straw for Democrats. 

State Sen. Kay Floyd, the top Democrat in the Oklahoma Senate who represents Oklahoma City, said she supports her House colleagues’ request, citing the bomb threats to Tulsa-area public schools.

“These threats are a direct result of reckless rhetoric and must be addressed,” Floyd said in a statement. 

Conservative groups in the state, including the Oklahoma 2nd Amendment Association and the Tulsa chapter of Moms for Liberty, said they stand by Walters. Janice Danforth, chair of the Moms for Liberty chapter, said she thinks the calls for an impeachment probe are “ridiculous and an attempt at mob rule.”