Audit finds BIA schools unprepared for violence
The Bureau of Indian Affairs is unprepared to prevent violence and protect the safety of children and staff at its schools, according to a report released earlier this month.

About 60,000 American Indian and Alaska Native children attend 184 elementary and secondary schools across the country. Yet some of the schools in system, known as the Bureau of Indian Education, lack the most basic safety measures, the Office of the Inspector General at the Interior Department said in the report.

None of the nine schools visited by the OIG are ready to deal with fights, shootings, bomb threats and other serious threats, the report said. Investigators were able to enter buildings through unlocked and unsecured doors and walk around without being questioned at more than half of the sites.

"We found that education facilities are unprotected and underserved," Inspector General Earl E. Devaney wrote. "As a result, BIE is dangerously unprepared to prevent violence and ensure the safety of students and staff."

In 2000, the BIA released a study that showed its students were more likely to carry a gun to school or be involved in a physical fight. But eight years later, the OIG said there are still no laws, executive orders or other directives regarding security at the schools.

So the only way to assess the BIE schools was to compare their conditions to requirements at other public schools. Based on 18 "mainstream" safety measures, the OIG found that few of the BIE facilities were making the grade.

Three schools -- the Tohono O'odham High School in Arizona, the Santa Rosa Boarding School in Arizona and the Chemawa Indian School in Oregon -- lacked adequate security fencing, yet they are open to some of the highest risks, according to the report. The Tohono O'odham Nation is particularly prone to the drug trade and illegal immigration due to its shared border with Mexico.

A 15-year-old Indian girl died of alcohol-related causes at Chemawa, an off-reservation facility, due to lax safety measures, the OIG said in a prior report. The school has since erected a fence around the school but the OIG deemed it adequate.

According to the report, "Tohono O'odham High School, Santa Rosa Boarding School, and Chemawa Indian School had either illegal immigrants crossing the campus or transients living on facility property. Responsible facility officials told us that at times these unauthorized individuals either traded drugs for food and water, or sold drugs, to students."

More than half of the schools lacked central alarm systems, the report said. This poses a higher risk at places like the Blackfeet Dormitory in Montana, where students live in a building that wasn't connected to the main communication system.

"Staff were directed to communicate emergencies to the unconnected building via a two-way radio, however, we were told that staff did not always carry the radios," the report said.

In 2006, the BIE provided all of its schools with a guide to prepare an emergency preparedness plan, the report said. But none of the nine schools visited by the OIG had adequate plans.

"Several facilities provided multiple emergency plans, compounding these weaknesses. In some cases, the same emergency situations were discussed in more than one plan," the report said. "Therefore, we question how facility officials could determine which plan to follow during the chaos of an emergency."

The OIG asked George Skibine, who was put in charge of the BIA in May, to respond to the report within 30 days. Earlier this year, the OIG released a report that said BIA schools weren't conducting adequate background checks of employees.

Last July, another OIG report found "serious health and safety deficiencies" during visits to 13 BIA schools.

OIG Report:
Evaluation Of Controls To Prevent Violence At Bureau Of Indian Education Operated Education Facilities (August 2008)

BIA Report from 2000:
Youth Risk Behavior Survey of Middle School Students Attending Bureau Funded Schools

Related Stories:
Review finds background checks lacking at BIA schools (7/21)
Report warns of serious dangers at BIA schools (7/17)
BIA officials faulted for student's death still at work (7/27)
Survey finds high-risk behaviors among BIA students (11/13)