CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, KSNT News reported the board read a letter of resignation from Education Commissioner Randy Watson. Instead, Chair Jim Porter made an opening statement. KSNT News confirmed Watson previously turned in a letter of resignation to the board.
TOPEKA (KSNT) – The State Board of Education rejected a letter of resignation from Commissioner Randy Watson 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 personnel issues after Education Commissioner Randy Watson made, what one board member called, an inappropriate remark during a conference last week.
The meeting opened with the Chair of the State Department of Education Jim Porter reading a statement concerning the resignation of Education Commissioner Randy Watson.
The Board then met for an hour-long executive session.
Following the meeting Governor Laura Kelly requested a meeting with the Kansas State Board of Education Chair Jim Porter and Commissioner Randy Watson to discuss what has transpired and how to move forward now that the Board has acted.
The 10-member elected board appoints the commissioner, who is the top administrator at the State Department of Education. Watson became commissioner in 2014 after serving as superintendent of McPherson’s public schools.
On Thursday the Kansas governor’s office has issued a statement saying Education Commissioner Randy Watson should resign his position immediately.
KSNT’s Capitol Bureau obtained video of the virtual conference Thursday that showed Commissioner Randy Watson make the remarks. The comments, which Native American legislators in the state said left them “appalled,” were made when the commissioner was telling a story about tornadoes in the state. Watson had changed the subject after thanking attendees for their work in improving the postsecondary effectiveness rate, which is a measurement towards high school graduation rate and student success.
Below is the full transcript of Watson’s statement that flagged controversy:
“It’s always fascinating, I had some cousins from California, they were petrified of tornadoes,” Watson said. “They’d come visit us, you know, in the summer. They’re like, ‘Are we going to get killed by a tornado?’ I’d say ‘Don’t worry about that, but you got to worry about the Indians raiding the town at any time.’ And they really thought that.”
Chairman Joseph Rupnick of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation also sent out a response Thursday to Watson’s remarks, which he labeled as “dangerous and inflammatory.”
“As an education leader in the state of Kansas, Commissioner Watson is responsible for guiding our future generation forward, but that cannot happen when he’s ignorant to the diverse history of our youth,” Rupnick said. “Many Native American communities are still recovering from the injustices that occurred on our land two centuries ago and haunt us today. Commissioner Watson revealed himself as someone who is not suited for a leadership role and because of that he should resign immediately.”