Students at Santa Fe Indian School, a Bureau of Indian Education institution in New Mexico, take part in a walkout on March 14, 2018, to call attention to school shootings and support gun reform. Photo: Santa Fe Indian School Music Department

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs sets hearing on school safety

With shootings, walkouts and calls for reform at public schools dominating the news, attention is finally turning to the Bureau of Indian Education.

The BIE, which is part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, is responsible for educating about 48,000 Indian students across the country. Reviews have shown that some of the agency's schools have not always kept children safe and haven't always been prepared for shootings or other incidents of violence.

According to the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of the Interior, the BIE has failed to ensure that all employees, contractors, and volunteers who come in contact with Indian children have completed background checks.

"These issues leave children vulnerable to contact with persons who would be determined unfit if background checks were completed before hiring and then reinvestigated every 5 years as required," a report made public in February stated.

A 2016 report also found lapses in BIE school safety. Of the 16 schools visited, only four had emergency plans to cover incidents like bomb threats, shootings and hostage situations. Only seven offered violence prevention training, the OIG said.

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will be digging deeper into the subject with an oversight hearing next Wednesday, May 16. It comes after students at the Santa Fe Indian School, a BIE institution in New Mexico, demanded action to keep their campus safe.

"We shouldn't have to live in fear of going to school, or going to a concert or going to places that we were promised would be safe," the Braves and Lady Braves Against School Violence, a student-led group, said in a statement on March 14, when students across the nation walked out of classes to call attention to gun violence.

A week later, Congress included H.R.4909, the STOP School Violence Act, in a $1.3 trillion spending bill. The measure provides $75 million a year in grants to tribes, states, school districts and law enforcement agencies to help them develop intervention and prevention programs in hopes of stopping violence before it occurs.

The #Omnibus bill also included H.R.4477, the Fix NICS Act of 2017. The measure seeks to strengthen a national background check system to keep guns out of the hands of violent people.

"With the President’s leadership, we’ve joined the NRA to call on states to give families and law enforcement the tools they need to stop mass shootings before they happen, because we know we can protect public safety and due process at the same time," Vice President Mike Pence told the National Rifle Association last week in Texas. President Donald Trump also spoke at the event.

Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Notice:
Oversight Hearing on "Protecting the Next Generation: Safety and Security at Bureau of Indian Education Schools" (May 16, 2018)

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