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Oklahoma Official Questions Hiring Pregnant Woman

OKLAHOMA CITY — A member of Oklahoma's Board of Education drew heated reaction Thursday after saying a newly hired administrator would be "worthless" as a legislative liaison if she took immediate maternity leave.

Shortly after the board voted to hire Jessica Russell, who is due to give birth in April, former state Sen. Herb Rozell noted that she was pregnant and questioned whether she would be around for key days of the upcoming legislative session.

Russell was hired to represent the state Department of Education's interests at the Capitol. The Oklahoma Legislature reconvenes Feb. 7 and must end its business by May 27.

"If she has that baby in April and takes off six weeks, she's worthless to us," Rozell said.

While there was some laughter in the room, state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi rebuked Rozell and ordered a 10-minute recess. Russell left the room in tears.

"Your comment is inappropriate and not worthy of this board and this department," Barresi said.

After the meeting, Rozell said his words came out wrong.

"I didn't mean to interfere. I was just hoping we could have her in April and May, because that's when everything gets tied up," he said.

Gov. Mary Fallin called Rozell's remark "demeaning" and "disgusting," while Sen. Clark Jolley and Sen. John Ford called for Rozell to resign. Jolley said Rozell's comment was "archaic, misogynistic and deplorable."

Rozell didn't immediately return a phone message seeking comment about calls for his resignation.

Oklahoma has about 660,000 students in its public education system.

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