Kansas education board to meet over commissioner’s ‘inappropriate’ comment about American Indians

By: - February 23, 2022 6:06 pm

Kansas education commissioner Randy Watson said something “inappropriate” about American Indians during a virtual conference earlier this year, a state school board member said. The board will meet Friday to talk about the comment in a closed door meeting. (Screen Capture from Kansas State Department of Education video)

TOPEKA — The Kansas State Board of Education plans to meet Friday behind closed doors to discuss an “inappropriate” comment education commissioner Randy Watson made earlier this month regarding American Indians.

Two board members said they were aware of the comment but unsure of the exact wording. A quote posted on social media couldn’t be verified by Kansas Reflector.

“Something has happened, and I expect that I will get a full and complete report at some time in the very near future,” said board member Jim McNiece, who represents a portion of Wichita. “And then the board will decide what it needs to do.”

A Facebook post from Feb. 15 attributed an offensive comment to Watson during a virtual conference that took place Feb. 14-15.

Board member Ann Mah, who represents the Topeka area, said the post wasn’t entirely accurate, but she confirmed Watson had said something offensive about American Indians.

“Let’s just say it was what we consider to be inappropriate,” Mah said.

Mah said board members will meet in executive session Friday to talk about the situation. She declined to say what actions the board could take because it is a personnel matter.

“Folks need to know this is something the board takes seriously, and we’re going to deal with it,” Mah said.

Kansas Reflector has filed a request under the Kansas Open Records Act for video of Watson during the Feb. 14-15 conference. KSDE spokeswoman Denise Kahler didn’t respond to a phone call or email seeking information for this story, except to ask that the open records request be sent to someone else at the agency instead of her.

The state board chose Watson to serve as education commissioner in 2014. He previously served as superintendent of McPherson schools.

Mah said Watson’s disparaging remark was “totally” out of character. McNiece said Watson has been a model of “how you’re supposed to hold yourself.”

“I’m anxious to find out the details,” McNiece said. “I have great confidence that Randy Watson has made equity and respect key building blocks during his time as commissioner. He has always been a strong advocate for the underserved and for all kids.”

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the editor in chief of Kansas Reflector. He writes about things that powerful people don't want you to know. A two-time Kansas Press Association journalist of the year, his award-winning reporting includes stories about education, technology, foster care, voting, COVID-19, sex abuse, and access to reproductive health care. Before founding Kansas Reflector in 2020, he spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He graduated from Emporia State University in 2004, back when the school still valued English and journalism. He was raised in the country at the end of a dead end road in Lyon County.