Kansas State Board of Education to meet Friday after ‘inappropriate’ remarks by education commissioner

·2 min read
Randy Watson, Kansas commissioner of education, speaks during a summer 2020 news conference at the Kansas Statehouse regarding delaying schools' reopening.
Randy Watson, Kansas commissioner of education, speaks during a summer 2020 news conference at the Kansas Statehouse regarding delaying schools' reopening.

The Kansas State Board of Education has scheduled a special meeting Friday to discuss personnel matters after education commissioner Randy Watson made what one state board member called an "inappropriate" comment during a conference last week.

State Board of Education member Ann Mah, D-Topeka, told The Capital-Journal that the education governing board was taking "very seriously" some comments Watson had made. She said Watson had reached out to her after he made the comments, but that she couldn't share exactly what Watson said in his remarks or in his call to her.

"What you need to know is that it was an inappropriate comment, and we're going to deal with it," she said.

More: Parents' rights or burden on teachers? Kansas lawmakers spar on school transparency bills.

A transcript of the comments, first broached in a Facebook post on Feb. 15, appear to show Watson retelling a story from his childhood and making derogatory remarks about Native Americans.

State Board of Education Chair Jim Porter, R-Fredonia, said board members had been made aware of the alleged remarks. The board is scheduled to meet Friday in executive session to discuss "personnel matters," as well as to consult with a board attorney.

"I have not heard the tape," Porter said.

Rep. Stephanie Byers, D-Wichita, one of three Native American legislators, said legislators were expecting access to video of the remarks later this evening. Legislators met with Gov. Laura Kelly's office on the matter Wednesday afternoon.

Watson has served as the state's top education official since 2014. Prior to his appointment to the position, he served as superintendent of McPherson USD 418.

More: Teachers spend hundreds on out-of-pocket classroom costs. A Kansas bill could help.

He has led the state education agency during its push to redesign Kansas K-12 education and boost the statewide graduation and post-secondary success rates, as well as in the past two years of COVID-19 learning in the state.

In Kansas, the education commissioner reports to the State Board of Education, who has the final say on hiring or firing Watson.

Watson didn't return a phone message, and questions emailed to his office weren't immediately returned. The Capital-Journal has filed a request under the Kansas Open Records Act in an attempt to obtain the video.

Andrew Bahl is a senior statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at abahl@gannett.com or by phone at 443-979-6100.

Rafael Garcia is an education reporter for The Capital-Journal. He can be reached at rgarcia@cjonline.com.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Education Board to meet after ‘inappropriate’ remarks by Commissioner