CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, KSNT News reported that the board read a resignation letter from Education Commissioner Randy Watson. Instead, Chairman Jim Porter made an opening statement. KSNT News has confirmed that Watson previously submitted a resignation letter to the board.
TOPEKA (KSNT) — The State Board of Education rejected a resignation letter from Commissioner Randy Watson on Friday morning after an offensive remark about Native Americans at a recent public conference. The board suggested a 30-day suspension for Watson instead.
The Kansas State School Board has scheduled a special meeting for Friday to discuss staffing issues after Education Commissioner Randy Watson made what one board member called an inappropriate remark during a a conference last week.
The meeting opened with State Department of Education Chairman Jim Porter reading a statement regarding the resignation of Education Commissioner Randy Watson.
The Board then met for a one-hour executive session.
Following the meeting, Governor Laura Kelly requested a meeting with Kansas State Board of Education Chairman Jim Porter and Commissioner Randy Watson to discuss what happened and how how to move forward now that the board has acted.
The elected 10-member board appoints the commissioner, who is the highest administrator in the state Department of Education. Watson became commissioner in 2014 after serving as superintendent of McPherson Public Schools.
On Thursday, the Kansas governor’s office released a statement saying Education Commissioner Randy Watson should resign from his post immediately.
KSNT’s Capitol office obtained video of the virtual conference on Thursday that showed Commissioner Randy Watson making the remarks. The comments, which Native American lawmakers in the state said “appalled” them, were made when the commissioner was telling a story of tornadoes in the state. Watson had changed the subject after thanking participants for their work in improving the post-secondary efficiency rate, which is a measure of high school graduation rate and student achievement.
Below is the full transcript of Watson’s statement that signaled the controversy:
“It’s always fascinating, I had cousins from California, they were petrified by tornadoes,” Watson said. “They came to visit us, you know, in the summer. They say, ‘Are we going to be killed by a tornado?’ I was like, ‘Don’t worry about that, but you have to worry about Indian raids on the city at any time.’ And they really meant that.
Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation President Joseph Rupnick also sent a response Thursday to Watson’s remarks, which he called “dangerous and inflammatory.”
“As the education leader in the state of Kansas, Commissioner Watson is charged with guiding our future generation forward, but that can’t happen if he ignores the diverse history of our youth,” Rupnick said. “Many Native American communities are still recovering from the injustices that occurred in our lands two centuries ago and haunt us today. Commissioner Watson has revealed himself as someone who is not suited for a leadership role and because of this he should resign immediately.