An Oklahoma high school teacher resigned this week after providing her students with a QR code to access free, banned books online, a bizarre new turn in the cascading right-wing panic over teaching about race and gender in schools.
“I don’t feel like I can just go back into a classroom right now in this state and the environment we find ourselves in and do my job,” Summer Boismier told The Daily Beast.
Boismier’s resignation was first reported by Fox 25’s reporter Wendy Suares.
An English teacher at Norman High School south of Oklahoma City, Boismier said that she resorted to covering her entire classroom library—which contained over 500 books—in butcher paper ahead of the first day of school because of the district’s strict policy on appropriate literature. The QR code was meant to fill in the gaps.
After the first day of school this past Friday, she was informed she would have a meeting with officials about a complaint lodged over a discussion in class.
She later learned that the complaint was connected to the QR code, which links kids to UnBanned, a Brooklyn Public Library program offering teenagers unlimited digital and audio access to banned or challenged books. The project has emerged at a time when lawmakers across the country have begun cracking down on texts somehow deemed hostile to white people or otherwise supposedly inviting shame among youth.
As part of that broader backlash—a backlash to longstanding calls for young people to grasp systemic racism and discrimination—Oklahoma lawmakers last year enacted HB 1775. Among other things, the law prohibits schools from “engaging in race or sex-based discriminatory acts…. which result in treating individuals differently on the basis of race or sex or the creation of a hostile environment.”
Basically, the law dictates that teachers not make young white kids feel bad for being white or cisgender. According to The Oklahoman, the bill was pushed as a ban on so-called critical race theory, a right-wing bete noire, even though those words do not appear in the legislative text, and despite CRT not being taught at virtually any school in America.
Over the weekend, Boismier said, she reached out to school administrators, asking for clarification about whether she should report to class on Monday given her upcoming meeting. “I was told I was on administrative leave,” Boismier claimed, adding that she believed the complaint against her was from a parent who wanted her fired.
A school spokesperson confirmed to The Daily Beast that the episode centering on Boismier began when “a concerned parent reached out to us about a potential issue regarding Oklahoma HB 1775.” The spokesperson, Wes Moody, denied that Boismier had ever been suspended nor placed on leave, and in fact, suggested that she had been invited to resume her work. But he acknowledged that the school believed she intended to resign.
“The concern centered on a Norman Public Schools teacher who, during class time, made personal, political statements and used their classroom to make a political display expressing those opinions,” the spokesperson, Moody, said. “Like many educators, the teacher has concerns regarding censorship and book removal by the Oklahoma state legislature. However, as educators, it is our goal to teach students to think critically, not to tell them what to think.”
Earlier this year, the Oklahoma State Board of Education downgraded the accreditation of Mustang Public Schools and Tulsa Public Schools for allegedly not adhering to the rules imposed by HB 1775. According to local reports, Tulsa Public Schools were dinged by state officials after a teacher allegedly complained that the district’s training materials “shame white people.”
“The downgrade of the accreditation of those two school districts, I think, puts every district in Oklahoma on notice,” Boismier said. “But honestly, I was not shocked when this happened. HB 1775 is designed to elicit this kind of environment.”
Boismier said that the environment started to come into focus before school started on Friday when she and her colleagues were given new instructions about how to handle interactions between students and books.
The request came in the form of two pieces of paper—a “teacher signature sheet” and the school’s policy on classroom libraries. The two papers, which were reviewed by The Daily Beast, provide a list of rules that high-school classroom literature must adhere to—including that it needs to have been “read in its entirety or have at least two professional reviews about the book.”
The books must also “contain content that is appropriate for the intended audience” and “reflect diverse perspectives, cultural practices, and social identities,” the policy sheet states.
The teacher signature sheet prompts all educators to agree to the policies—and to attest that they have reviewed and approved each book in their classroom prior to the first day of school.
Moody, the school spokesperson, essentially confirmed this in an earlier statement to The Daily Beast. “Our intent has been to inform teachers of the potential professional consequences of HB 1775 and ensure they are supported and able to confidently retain their classroom libraries,” he said.
At least one veteran teacher in the same district suggested Boismier was not alone in constantly looking over her shoulder as she tried to do her job.
“Teaching in Oklahoma right now, you are just waiting for the person who is going to turn you in,” a former Norman Public Schools teacher, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of professional retaliation, told The Daily Beast, adding, “It’s very much like 1984.”
For Boismier, the idea of going through her over-500-book classroom library and ensuring she had validation of each title seemed impossible. So she made the decision to restrict the books in her room totally. Simply put, that meant covering every bookshelf of her extensive library with the butcher paper and advising students if they wanted to read a book, to go to the library or find another resource.
She wanted her students to take notice—and to know she did not agree with the state’s policies, she said.
During that conversation, Boismier explained, she provided her students with the QR code to have access to literature she could not provide physically in the classroom. She stressed that she “didn’t think twice” about the two-minute conversation she had with her students—until she was approached by an administrator that afternoon.
Boismier claimed on Tuesday she learned that one of the main issues the school had with the QR code she shared with students was the caption she had added, which said: “Definitely don’t scan this.”
“I essentially should have said, ‘Scan this,’ instead and ‘definitely don’t scan this’ made it seem like something forbidden,” the teacher said with a laugh. “Honestly, I am still confused about the explanation. It all comes down to whether they objected to a contraction.” (The school spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this point.)
Despite her professional life being in turmoil, Boismier was clear on where she placed the blame.
“I recognize as well the difficult position that administrators and school officials are placed in,” she said. “And, you know, I want to be very clear that you know, I placed the primary blame for this entire situation and everything that has transpired off the heels of Governor [Kevin] Stitt.”
In response to Boismier’s comments and the larger furor over the law he signed, Stitt’s communications director clapped back to The Daily Beast in a statement.
“Parents should not have to worry about their child being taught in K-12 that he or she is inherently racist or sexist, that he or she should be discriminated against because of his or her race or sex, that he or she bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex, that he or she is required to feel guilty about his or her race or sex, that hard work ethic is racist, or that one race or sex is superior or another race or sex, all of which are banned concepts under the law.”
“Educators who choose to resign because they ideologically oppose banning these racist and sexist concepts from the classroom have every right to do so and probably should,” the spokesperson, Carly Atchison, added.