Welcome to Wolf Point, Montana, on the Fort Peck Reservation. Photo: RoyalBroil
Education | National

Fort Peck Tribes demand investigation into treatment at public schools

The Fort Peck Tribes are asking the Trump administration to investigate discrimination and racism at public schools on their reservation in Montana.

A complaint filed with the Department of Education and the Department of Justice cites years mistreatment of students who are served by the Wolf Point School District. Administrators, faculty and staff use racial slurs and employ harmful stereotypes, while Native youth are subjected to higher rates of punishment, according to the tribe.

“There is substantial evidence that the Wolf Point School District violates federal standards for equal education,” attorney Melina Healey of the ACLU of Montana said in a press release. “Native students have been systematically disadvantaged in comparison to their non-Native peers through racially biased enforcement of school discipline policies, inequitable access to school activities, and verbal abuse by teachers and staff.”

The request comes as the Trump administration is changing the way it handles complaints like the one submitted by the tribe. Top Trump officials have directed the Education and Justice departments to scale back civil rights investigations, ProPublica reported earlier this month.

The New York Times followed up by confirming that the Office for Civil Rights at Education has been directed to keep their inquiries as short as possible. The goal, according to a senior official at the department, is to handle complaints more "efficiently," but Democrats in the Senate called the changes "harmful."

"Over the past decade, OCR has maximized its impact and ability to enforce civil rights laws by taking a systematic approach, gathering multiple years of data, and looking to see whether the discrimination, harassment, or other prohibited behavior raised by a complainant was indicative of a broader problem affecting other students or school community members," a letter signed by 34 Democrats in the Senate stated. "The new field memo instructs field investigators only to investigate 'systematic' or 'class-action' issues when they are raised directly in a complaint or at the discretion of the investigative team. Limiting use of the systematic approach may cause investigators to miss issues of pervasive discrimination or civil rights abuses."

The Fort Peck complaint in fact cites data collected by OCR which shows Native students are removed from classrooms in Wolf Point at "disproportionate rates." A majority of students in the district are Native American.

"Regardless of who is in the Oval Office, it is the duty of the Department of Justice and the Department of Education to protect students from discrimination and ensure every child has equal access to a quality education," the ACLU of Montana said . "We hope the claims and concerns from the parents and students in Wolf Point will be taken seriously and addressed fairly."

Read More on the Story:
Tribes file discrimination complaint against Wolf Point School District (The Great Falls Tribune 6/28)
Two Native American tribes allege discrimination in Montana schools (AP 6/28)