February 26, 2024

Oklahoma’s director with a drag queen appearance resigns under pressure from state Superintendent Ryan Walters

For twenty years, Shane Murnan worked as a teacher during the day and as a drag queen in Oklahoma City clubs at night and on weekends. He won awards for his achievements as he rose in his career and became an administrator. He said he never had a problem with his dual identity until last year.

At the start of the Fall 2023 semester, as Murnan started a new job as principal of John Glenn Elementary School in the Western Heights School District, an anonymous newsletter was posted about his drag persona and previous criminal charges he was facing had received. Two days later, on August 31, TikTok’s far-right social media account Libs posted a message about Murnan, and Ryan Walters, the firebrand state inspector, called for his dismissal. Soon after, the district and Murnan received bomb threats, according to police records and interviews.

Now Murnan is leaving his job, while Walters is trying to enact rules to make it easier to fire teachers who engage in back-breaking activities outside of their jobs. Murnan said he will most likely not work for another school district in Oklahoma after this experience.

“I am a very professional person – I have worked very hard,” Murnan said in an interview. “I went to school. I got my bachelor’s degree, my master’s degree, my doctorate degree – I’m committed to education, trying to make it better. But they destroyed me, and I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing now. This has been a nightmare.”

The Western Heights School Board voted Monday to accept Murnan’s resignation at its regular monthly meeting.

Murnan said district administrators had not allowed him to work in the John Glenn Elementary School building during the school day since September, saying it was a safety risk. While Western Heights Superintendent Brayden Savage initially supported Murnan, he said, she told him last month that if he didn’t resign, the district would fire him because of the costs of increased security. The district asked him to sign an agreement that included a clause preventing him from talking publicly about the controversy, Murnan said, but he declined.

Savage did not respond to a request for comment.

Murnan is the latest example of an educator singled out by Walters over ideological differences. Walters accused a teacher in 2022 promoting pornography by sharing a QR code to access books from the Brooklyn Public Library; the teacher quit and left the state when Walters sought to revoke her teaching license. Last August, Walters promoted a Libs of TikTok after about an Oklahoma school librarian – who said her “radical liberal agenda teaches kids to love books and be kind” – and suggested this reflected a “woke ideology”; The librarian’s district received bomb threats for several days, which were deemed not credible.

Oklahoma Schools Superintendent Ryan Walters warned that people who hired Shane Murnan “will be held accountable.”Christopher Creese for NBC News

Walters responds to previous reports about Murnan’s departure posted a video on Feb. 2, calling his firing “a major victory for Oklahoma schools.” He promised that the people who hired him “will be held accountable.”

The Oklahoma Education Department declined to answer several questions about Walters’ statements about Murnan and Western Heights, but Walters said in a statement that he has “proposed the most aggressive model in the nation for identifying and expelling these people from our schools. ”

Walters recently proposed a rule that would allow educators to be fired for “acts that excessively promote sexuality” outside of work “in the presence of a minor or in a manner available to a minor online.” He has said that the proposed rule, which is still being considered by the state agency, is an attempt to prevent others who perform in drag from holding teacher or administrator positions, and the department has stated that it believes such teachers are “likely will exhibit inappropriate behavior’. in the presence of minors in a classroom.”

The anonymous newsletter that first drew attention to Murnan, called V1SUT, has also often focused on decades-old criminal charges against Murnan that were dropped.

Murnan was charged in 2001 with possessing child sexual abuse material while he was a fifth-grade teacher. Two judges dismissed the charges, ruling that prosecutors could not prove the allegations, and the cases were dropped. Murnan claims a former colleague fabricated the allegations.

Before Western Heights hired him as principal, Murnan passed a background check and said the district was aware of his previous lawsuits. The district has said he came highly recommended, noting that he was recently reissued his teaching certificate signed by Walters.

Community members rallied in September to defend Murnan. They showed up at the school board meeting wearing shirts that read “#StandWithMurnan.”

Murnan said he didn’t hide his part-time job as a drag queen, but he didn’t brag about it at school either.

“There’s never been an issue because I never brought it out and made it an issue,” he said. “I did my part-time job on the weekends, then I went to work and worked really hard to make the school a better place. They never had an argument with each other. Then someone took it and ran with it and tried to make it into a spectacle that it isn’t.”

Savage, the district superintendent, told John Glenn Elementary School staff during a Dec. 15 meeting that she had defended Murnan, according to video of the meeting obtained by NBC News. However, Savage told employees that Murnan would not return to the elementary school campus because she and the district were still receiving hate mail and threats.

“I’m not giving in to Ryan Walters,” Savage told the staff, “but at the end of the day, I have to keep the students and staff of this school safe. The hate hasn’t stopped. Bringing Shane back to the building is a safety risk for everyone. I can’t be completely sure that one of those crazies won’t show up and clean the building, which is something I’ve seen time and time again.”

In January, Murnan said, the district unexpectedly placed him on administrative leave. Savage then asked him to resign, citing the cost of extra security, Murnan said. Savage told The Oklahoman that the district had spent about $65,000 on additional security, administrative assistance and other costs since August. Murnan said he signed a resignation letter on January 26.

Murnan said his ouster raises questions about the focus of the state education department.

“Right now, it’s not about the kids in Oklahoma,” Murnan said. “It’s all about politics.”

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