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Report warns of serious dangers at BIA schools

A visit to 13 Bureau of Indian Affairs schools turned up "serious health and safety deficiencies," some of which have gone uncorrected for years, the Interior Department's Inspector General said in an urgent report.

The BIA needs to take "immediate action" to fix the problems, the report said. "Failure to mitigate these conditions will likely cause injury or death to children and school employees," Inspector General Earl E. Devaney said in a letter to Assistant Secretary Carl Artman.

Of the 13 schools, four on the Navajo Nation were singled out for serious deficiencies. Some academic buildings at the Chinle Boarding School, for example, are in danger of falling due to unstable foundations, the report said.

While Devaney's investigators were at the Shonto Preparatory School, an employee and her husband had to be taken to the hospital. They suffered carbon monoxide poisoning from an aging employee dormitory, the report said.

The report was dated May 31, just a few days after Tom Dowd, the director of the Bureau of Indian Education, announced his resignation. Officials have not said why he plans to leave in August but some of his subordinates believe he wasn't given enough support in Washington, D.C., to address problems at the schools.

"BIE needs to take immediate action to address health and safety deficiencies identified in this report," Devaney said in the report to Artman.

Devaney was worried that the poor conditions at the 13 schools in the report could spread elsewhere in Indian Country without corrective action. He said that the BIA has already identified 38 percent of its schools to be in "poor" condition.

The BIA has developed a priority list for improving the 185 schools under its jurisdiction. But money for the program has been dwindling under the Bush administration and the White House has made the process more difficult in hopes of improving the program's performance.

According to the Interior Department, however, 69 percent of the schools will be in "good" or "fair" condition by the end of 2008. More than 60 school replacement and repair projects have been funded since 2002, budget documents state.

One project due to receive funds in the 2008 budget cycle will replace the Keams Canyon School on the Navajo Nation in Arizona. Devaney said the facility has so many condemned buildings that none of them have been boarded up.

"The buildings need to be demolished or children could be seriously injured," the report said. Some buildings were condemned over 10 years ago.

The Kayenta Boarding School is also due for improvements. The process started way back in 1999 but is still in the planning stages, Devaney said.

"We identified severe health and safety deficiencies at the school," the report said.

Devaney recommended three actions the BIA should take to address the deficiencies. They were: 1) Stabilize or vacate buildings currently in use that are in imminent danger of collapse; 2) Demolish or take immediate steps to prevent access to condemned buildings until they are demolished; and 3) Develop and implement inspection and abatement plans to identify and mitigate all health and safety hazards at BIE schools.

The report asked Artman to submit a response by July 2.

Flash Report:
Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education: Schools in Need of Immediate Action (May 2007)

Relevant Links:
Bureau of Indian Education -

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