Kansas governor demands that education leader resign due to remarks about 'raiding.

Three Native American legislators and the chairperson of one of Kansas’ four Native American Nations also called for Randy Watson, Education Commissioner, to resign.

Kansas governor demands that education leader resign due to remarks about 'raiding.

TOPEKA, Kan. -- Gov. Laura Kelly and other indigenous leaders called for the resignation of Kansas' top school administrator after making an offensive remark regarding Native Americans.

Kelly was joined by three Native American legislators and the chairperson of one of Kansas’ four Native American nations, in demanding that Randy Watson be removed as state education commissioner. All three Native American lawmakers and the chair of one of Kansas' four Native American nations reviewed a Zoom video that featured remarks Watson made during a conference on virtual learning last week.

Kelly, Watson, and the leaders of the four Native American countries met Wednesday to discuss Watson's comments. The State Board of Education also scheduled a special meeting Friday to address the situation. The commissioner is appointed by the State Department of Education's 10-member elected board.

The video of Watson's presentation, which lasted 51 minutes, was released by the department during the conference. He made the offensive comment at 42 minutes. It was part of an extended metaphor in which he compared responding to a coronavirus pandemic with dealing with both tornadoes and hurricanes. He joked about his California cousins who used to visit him in Kansas during summer, and were "petrified of tornadoes."

Watson stated, "They're like: 'Are they going to get killed in a tornado?" Watson said, "Don't worry about it, but you have to be worried about Indians raiding your town at any moment."

Ponka-We Victors -Cozad (Democratic state Rep. Native), of Wichita called the comment "racist." Prairie Band Potawatomi Chair Joseph "Zeke" Rupnick stated that Watson demonstrated that he "isn't suited for leadership."

Rupnick stated that while Watson is responsible to guide our future generation forwards, he cannot do so if he is ignorant of the rich history of our youth.

According to the board's agenda, a closed session will be held for personnel issues and consultation with its attorney. Jim Porter, the Board Chair, stated that members of the board will be reviewing video of Watson's comments. Porter stated that he hasn't seen the video but Watson informed him, Porter and the other board members.

Watson has not yet responded to an interview request from the media on Thursday.

Kelly, a Democrat, stated that Education Commissioner Randy Watson had a long history of advocating for Kansas' children. Kelly said that the State and Kansas Board of Education should take derogatory or discriminatory language very seriously. "There's no doubt that Randy Watson needs to resign immediately.

Two other Native American legislators called for Watson's resignation were Stephanie Byers (D-Wichita) and Christina Haswood (D-Lawrence).

Lawrence is home to the Haskell Indian Nations University. Four Native American Nations are found in Northeast Kansas: the Iowa (the Kickapoo), the Prairie Band Potawatomi, and the Sac and Fox.

Haswood stated that the situation "reopened a trauma many Indigenous youth experienced in the classroom" and contributed to the mental health crises faced by Indigenous youths at an disproportionate rate.

After serving as superintendent for McPherson's public school, Watson was elected commissioner in November 2014. Watson, as commissioner, has advocated for the redesign of state's public schools in order to put more emphasis on personalized learning. This will also help prepare students for adult work.

This special meeting is coming at a difficult time politically for both the board and state's public schools. The board is more conservative than the GOP-controlled Legislature, despite having a majority of Republicans at 6-4.

Nearly a decade after being ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court, Kansas lawmakers are now forced to spend more money on public schools. Kelly's decision to close schools in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic was criticized for virtual education and the restrictions it imposes.

Conservative Republicans are pushing to allow parents who are not happy with their local schools to send their children to another district. The state education funds can then be used to pay for private schooling.

The board's assurances that public school curriculum standards wouldn't include critical racism theory last summer didn't satisfy GOP conservatives. This is part of a scholarly movement which was founded in the 1970s and focuses on the legacy and impact of slavery and racism in American society and history.

Republicans want to make schools post information online about their classroom materials. This will give parents more control over what is taught in the school libraries and how it is presented to them. They stated that they promote transparency in education.

Byers stated, "The current assaults on teaching history truthfully highlights that there is a need for a deeper teaching of Kansas' history of Native Americans."

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