Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma Watch is a non-profit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues facing the state. Oklahoma Watch is non-partisan and strives to be balanced, fair, accurate and comprehensive. The reporting project collaborates on occasion with other news outlets. Topics of particular interest include poverty, education, health care, the young and the old, and the disadvantaged.

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Michael Lockhoff plays with his daughter in their backyard in Tulsa. The Lockhoffs struggled last year, when she was 6, to work with schools to meet their child's educational and emotional needs.
Nate Robson / Oklahoma Watch

An Oklahoma Watch investigation finds that across the state, special education students are being paddled, suspended and expelled at higher rates than those of other students.

Students with physical and mental disabilities in Oklahoma are bearing much of the brunt of classroom discipline, government data show.

They're more likely than their peers to be suspended, expelled, arrested, handcuffed or paddled.

Michael Lockhoff plays with his daughter in their backyard in Tulsa. The Lockhoffs struggled last year, when she was 6, to work with schools to meet their child's educational and emotional needs.
Nate Robson / Oklahoma Watch

Although the tracking of discipline at schools has increased in recent years, many disciplinary actions are not recorded.

Joy Turner, an attorney with the Oklahoma Disability Law Center, which handles special education law, said she is concerned about the number of students sent home early from school for misbehaving.

The action isn’t marked as a suspension, which means parents cannot formally appeal to the principal or district officials. It also isn’t reported to the U.S. Department of Education, which means federal measures of school discipline are incomplete.

Kelly Freeman at home with her 7-year-old son while he assembles a puzzle.  The Freemans say their son still feels traumatized after being handcuffed at a Jenks school last school year.
Nate Robson / Oklahoma Watch

In Jenks Public Schools, campus police physically restrained and handcuffed a second-grade special education student.

His crime? He ran to the playground to escape a noisy classroom.

At Tulsa Public Schools, officials called a father and told him to pick up his 6-year-old daughter, who was having an emotional meltdown. He arrived to find four armed campus police officers holding her down, saying she assaulted one of them.

health insurance cards and dollar bills
Lindsey Whelchel / Oklahoma Watch

Affordable Care Act health insurance rates are expected to rise in Oklahoma in 2016, and the state Insurance Department insists it cannot do anything about rates except review and approve the paperwork.

In the past, however, the department held a somewhat different view, according to a former high-ranking state insurance official.

Savannah Kalman leads the state's effort to reduce the prevalence of suicide.
Ashley Sanchez / Oklahoma Watch

One of the paradoxes of Oklahoma is that as friendly as people are, many Oklahomans sink into despair and take their own lives.

The state has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, ranking 13th among states and the District of Columbia in 2013, according to the latest state-level figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol led the state in seized funds.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

More than 100 Oklahoma law enforcement agencies received $47.5 million over more than a decade through a controversial U.S. Department of Justice program that shared forfeited private assets with state and local agencies, records show.

Nearly three-fourths of the money and property went to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, which, according to a federal audit, spent about $2 million of it over three years on questionable purposes.

Mortar board on a football field as graduates file across the field
Jessie Jacobson / Flickr

In more than half the school districts in Oklahoma, parents interested in knowing the graduation rates of their child’s school or district are out of luck.

The state Department of Education is refusing to release the graduation rates for 58 percent of the state’s public school districts and charter schools, mostly smaller ones. The department says that according to its legal interpretation, doing so would violate a state law meant to protect student privacy.

Students in caps and gowns sitting in rows at a graduation
John Walker / Flickr

Oklahoma’s high school graduation rate has dropped, with low-income students seeing the largest decline, according to the latest data available from the state Department of Education.

The state’s overall graduation rate was 82.7 percent in school year 2013-2014, down from 84.9 percent in 2012-2013, the data show.

Those are the first two years the state has reported graduation rates using a four-year cohort measure being implemented across the nation. The rate represents the percentage of incoming freshmen who earn a high school diploma within four years.

James Alexander, who suffers from bipolar II disorder, spends 23 hours a day in lockdown in the Tulsa County jail.
Clifton Adcock / Oklahoma Watch

Before he was locked up in the Tulsa County jail, James Alexander lived in a hole in the ground.

That hole was under Interstate 44 in east Tulsa, and there he slept, ate and stored his belongings, including food he had stolen from nearby stores. He lived with depression related to bipiolar II disorder.

In jail for nearly two years since, Alexander, 30, now has a stable life. He is locked up 23 hours a day but gets steady meals. He is offered medication but refuses to take it.

His red beard is wiry and his fingernails long and yellowed.

health insurance cards and dollar bills
Lindsey Whelchel / Oklahoma Watch

Oklahomans who buy health insurance for next year from the largest insurer on the Affordable Care Act marketplace could face double-digit rate increases running as high as 44 percent, filings with the federal government show. 

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