At the board meeting, according to reports, Rozell and Gilpin joked about the pregnancy of a legislative liaison, Jessica Russell, hired by newly elected state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi, pictured right. Here’s how it was reported on NewsOK.com:
Friday, board members Herb Rozell and Tim Gilpin apologized for jokes they made at the expense of one of Barresi's hires — Jessica Russell, a legislative liaison who is pregnant and expecting in April.
Rozell, a former senator, commented that Russell would be “worthless” to the board if she was gone for six weeks on maternity leave during the peak of the legislative session. Gilpin made a motion that Russell not be allowed to have her baby in April or May.
“I'm sorry if I offended the lady,” Rozell told The Associated Press. “Heaven forbid, that's not what you're supposed to do. I had no intention of belittling the woman.”
Gilpin said the comments were meant as jokes. He said everyone was laughing, including Barresi.
Joking that a woman’s pregnancy makes her worthless as an employee and mocking her due date is about as misogynistic as it gets. It’s also anti-family and anti-children.
Have Rozell and Gilpin ever heard about the “glass ceiling,” a term which has been used to describe how historically many women have been denied promotions or raises in institutional and business settings simply because of their gender? Under the glass ceiling, women for years have been systematically penalized for pregnancy and raising a family as they hold down full-time jobs. This has been widely condemned as wrong.
The state Oklahoma Department of Education should be one of the last places where women should feel uncomfortable working simply because of their gender. The department oversees our schools. One 2006 study showed that approximately 80 percent of all teachers in the country are women.
Gilpin said it was just jokes. But under this logic, it’s perfectly appropriate then to make racist jokes or Polish jokes at public meetings in Oklahoma as well.
Just because it was joking—if that is really what it was—doesn’t mean it wasn’t demeaning and hateful. Lost in all the joking and its aftermath was the argument that some of Barresi’s new hires might not be qualified for their positions. Who is really going to care about that argument now? Who is going to care now about Gilpin’s remark, noted in the NewsOK.com story, that the board is a “watchdog”?
After the contentious meeting, House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, said there could be “significant reforms” of the school board’s authority this legislative year. The GOP has complete control of the Oklahoma government, and Barresi is a Republican. Under the current system, Gov. Mary Fallin, also a Republican, will begin making appointments relatively soon to the board.
It’s only a matter of time before Barresi—let’s be clear, I didn’t support her in the recent election and remain skeptical about her education agenda—gets to hire whoever she wants without interference.
Meanwhile, Rozell and Gilpin should do the right thing and resign. As watchdogs, they’re worthless to us now.