The tutoring she was promised to get her back on track didn’t materialize. An agreement with the high school principal to let her apply credits earned in summer courses toward graduation fell through. The special education plan that the school district developed for her, supposedly to help her catch up, instead laid out how she should be disciplined.
A wealth of rarely tapped data documents their plight. In public schools, white students are twice as likely as Native students to take at least one Advanced Placement course and Native students are more than twice as likely to be suspended.
…Only 65 percent of Native students were proficient or better in reading, compared with 94 percent of their white peers, and only 8 percent were proficient or better in math, compared with about half of the white students, according to the most recent state assessment data broken down by race from the 2013-14 school year. Just half of Wolf Point’s Native students graduate from high school, compared with about three-quarters of their white peers.
…According to the complaint and to interviews with dozens of students and families, Wolf Point schools provide fewer opportunities and social and academic supports to Native students, who make up more than half of the student body, than to the white minority. The junior and senior high schools, which together have about 300 students, shunt struggling Native students into a poorly funded, understaffed program for remedial students and truants, often against their will.
On the school’s basketball court, a coach has used derogatory slurs in front of Native students, such as “prairie Indians” and “dirty Indians,” according to the tribal board’s complaint. Female Native students were dropped from sports teams after giving birth, while white students were not, an apparent violation of federal law.
…Since passage of the Indian Education Act of 1972, Congress has tried to give tribes more resources and responsibility for educating their children. But most schools that serve Native youth remain under the authority of states and municipalities, which have historically rejected tribal input and insisted on control over curriculum, funding and staffing.
…In Anchorage, Alaska, a Native student said a school staff member addressed her as “squaw,” an offensive term. In Oklahoma City, federal officials heard about how a “Redskins” high school mascot led students to create posters alluding to skinning opponents and sending them “home on a ‘trail of tears.’”
…Dana Buckles, a member of the Tribal Executive Board since 2012 and a supporter of the complaint, said that his Wolf Point school pegged him as an “instigator” in the 1960s after he questioned why Native students were seated in the back rows.
…Ruth’s grades plummeted from the honor roll to F’s and D’s. …She never got the help she was promised, her family said, and still struggles in classes. “Broken promises — that’s all you get from the school,” Ruth said.
One year after Contreras requested it, the school drafted a formal education plan that was supposed to help Ruth academically. Instead, it set out disciplinary procedures for slow learning. Ruth would have “approximately 5 minutes to make a choice” on tasks and questions or face an in-school suspension.
…She soon found that its alternative program “was designed to punish those students that didn’t comply with the rules of traditional education,” she said. “They should be given other choices before they get to me.”
She said the town deployed Wolf Point’s official dog catcher and his van to take students home for behavior issues, a practice that has since been ended.
Ragland procured a refrigerator for her classroom, which she stocked with sandwich supplies, and a washer and dryer for homeless students. She allowed Native students to earn a biology credit for going fishing and bringing back their catch to dissect. She spurned worksheets and encouraged students to do research papers on topics of their interest.
In recent years, though, the school administration has given Ragland “little financial or other support,” according to the tribal board’s complaint. It has ordered her to stop developing Native American-centered curricula and taking students on field trips. At one point, it required learning center students to enter the school through a back door.
…In the past few years, she has filled out the paperwork for several state grants to help her address the trauma of her Native students. But the high school principal and district superintendent didn’t have the time or interest to sign off on her proposals, which were “shelved,” she said.
…She was given a public bench in the hallway to speak with students about sensitive issues like abuse and pregnancy. When she referred Native students to high school counselors, she said, she was frequently brushed off.
…Distraught after hearing about Jayden’s death, Cheek asked the high school counselor if she had followed up on her urgent request to check in on him. She hadn’t, Cheek said. About a week later, the superintendent, Osborne, banned Cheek from the district’s schools.
Jeezus… How inhumane.
One salient point here: This should go without saying but if a student reaches high school without reading or math proficiency, the fault is not their own. That is evidence of the school not doing its job. Period. And if steps aren’t taken by the school system to help the student, then they are abdicating their responsibilities and failing at the very job they exist to do.