Western Heights school district under investigation for hiring principal who performs in drag

By: - September 26, 2023 4:17 pm

The Oklahoma State Department of Education announced Tuesday it is investigating Western Heights Public Schools over its hiring of a principal who performs as a drag queen in his spare time. (Photo by Nuria Martinez-Keel/Oklahoma Voice)

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma State Department of Education will investigate a southwest Oklahoma City school district for hiring a principal who performs as a drag queen in his spare time.

The investigation could put Western Heights Public Schools’ state accreditation at risk. The school district already is on probation, the lowest possible accreditation status before closure, because of mismanagement by its previous administration.

In a statement Tuesday, the agency accused Western Heights of a “failure to act within the law to protect students” because it hired Shane Murnan, who performs under the drag name “Shantel Mandalay.”

Western Heights hired Murnan in June as principal of John Glenn Elementary. The district said it followed its usual hiring practice when screening candidates.

“Trust and transparency are foundational pillars of our community, and we are confident that the District is operating within the realm of the law,” the district wrote in a statement Tuesday. “(Western Heights) is committed to working in collaboration with OSDE as they conduct their investigation.”

Drag queen controversy puts Western Heights Public Schools in national spotlight

The state agency said it also is reviewing Murnan’s teaching license. Western Heights noted the agency renewed Murnan’s license in April, a process that required the principal to pass a felony background check.

Murnan did not respond to a request for comment.

State Superintendent Ryan Walters said having a drag performer in charge of a school is “simply unacceptable.”

“When woke school board members won’t protect our kids from radical gender theory, I will,” Walters said in the release.

The controversy caused a fresh wave of turmoil in Western Heights. The district experienced a turbulent period from 2019-2021 under the leadership of former Superintendent Mannix Barnes.

The district lost 37% of its employees and hundreds of students to other schools during Barnes’ tenure. Western Heights residents and staff protested deteriorating operational, financial and safety conditions in the school district.

The outcry ultimately prompted a state takeover of Western Heights, a newly hired superintendent and an ongoing investigative audit of the district’s finances.

Western Heights is still trying to correct issues its previous leadership left behind, said Briana Flatley, the district’s school board president.

“We’re just trying to stay above water, and I feel like we’re drowning again,” Flatley said before a Sept. 11 district board meeting. “That takes its toll on a district that is trying to survive right now.”

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Nuria Martinez-Keel
Nuria Martinez-Keel

Nuria Martinez-Keel covers education for Oklahoma Voice. She worked in newspapers for six years, more than four of which she spent at The Oklahoman covering education and courts. Nuria is an Oklahoma State University graduate.