Nuria Martinez-Keel wrote in The Oklahoman about the ouster of a state attorney who defied the state superintendent by supporting transgender people, whose numbers in the state must be minuscule. Since Republicans have decided that transgender people are a threat to national security, Lori Murphy had to go.

An attorney known for her support of transgender people and objections to the state’s rulemaking on classroom race and gender discussions was fired last week from the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

Assistant general counsel Lori Murphy worked at the agency for eight and a half years.

The Education Department terminated her employment “effective immediately” on Thursday, according to a letter to Murphy from the agency’s human resources office.

The letter did not cite a cause for her firing.

“I no longer speak for the agency (that’s what it means when you fire your lawyer), and I can’t speak to the reasoning for my termination,” Murphy wrote in a statement. “It was my honor to work my ass off on behalf of the students of Oklahoma from 2014 through January 26, 2023, a task I shared with hundreds of (Education Department) colleagues and thousands of school staff members across the state.”

New state schools Superintendent Ryan Walters is in the midst of orienting the Education Department toward his goals, one of which he said is ridding the agency and public schools of “liberal indoctrination.”

The department declined to explain the rationale for firing Murphy.

“The agency does not comment on the HR process or on personnel decisions,” spokesperson Matt Langston told The Oklahoman on Monday.

Four days after swearing in as state superintendent, Walters exempted Murphy’s position from a section of Oklahoma law that would have otherwise allowed her to file a complaint over termination, according to a human resources letter sent to Murphy on Jan. 13, which The Oklahoman also obtained.

Heads of state agencies are allowed to do so for no more than 5% of their employees.

“Just as public education serves everyone, public education builds from the truth that everyone can learn and grow when provided with the educational services and supports they need,” Murphy wrote in her statement. “From our 4-year-olds entering Oklahoma’s nationally recognized public preschool programs for the first time, to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.”

For more than two years, Murphy has worn masks that read “Trans Ally” or “Black Lives Matter” while attending monthly meetings of the Oklahoma State Board of Education. She wore a “Trans Ally” mask again at a state board meeting on Thursday.

Walters was a champion of legislation regulating transgender students’ use of school bathrooms by birth sex rather than by gender identity.

As the state Board of Education deliberated how to give teeth to House Bill 1775, Murphy objected to the board members’ handling of the process. She resigned from her role overseeing administrative rulemaking for the board, though she continued as an assistant general counsel for the state agency.

The state board ultimately approved rules that allowed it to demote a school district’s accreditation and suspend or revoke an educator’s certification over violations of HB 1775, a 2021 law that bans schools from teaching certain race and gender concepts, such as a person should feel guilt on account of their race or sex.

Although Murphy suggested rules that mostly restated the text of the law, the board opted for a rulemaking process she said operated “far outside the reach of previous emergency rule actions” and wrongly excluded public comment, according to internal emails The Oklahoman obtained at the time.

“Quite literally, I cannot sign my name to this action,” Murphy wrote to the board.

Although it did not collect public comment before approval of the temporary rules, the Education Department did so before the agency regulations became permanent.

Recently, Walters said he instructed his staff to investigate two teachers he accused of indoctrinating students. Both teachers have spoken against HB 1775.

Walters was referring to Tulsa Public Schools teacher Tyler Wrynn and former Norman High School teacher Summer Boismier. He has called for both of their teaching certificates to be revoked.

“I, as the state superintendent and the Department of Education, will do everything within our power to not allow our kids to be indoctrinated by far-left radicals and to hold those accountable who have done so,” Walters said in a video posted to social media.

Wrynn was captured in an edited video identifying himself as an anarchist who wants to “burn down the whole system,” beliefs he said he had to hide because of HB 1775.

Boismier made national news when she posted a QR code link in her classroom to the Brooklyn Public Library’s collection of banned books. She resigned from Norman Public Schools in opposition to HB 1775 and has since moved to New York to accept a position with the Brooklyn library.

“I feel like I cannot do my job and follow that law at the same time,” Boismier said in an August interview with The Oklahoman. “It puts teachers in an impossible position. It forces educators to commit educational malpractice in order to keep our jobs.”


Reporter Nuria Martinez-Keel covers K-12 and higher education throughout the state of Oklahoma.