The release of the report comes after the leader of the BIE insisted that the federal government takes safety at Indian schools seriously. Tony Dearman, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who was hired as the director of the agency in November 2016, recently testified about the issue on Capitol Hill. "Whether it be access to mental and behavioral services, or ensuring classrooms are physically safe, BIE is working effectively and efficiently utilize public resources," Dearman told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in May. But Dearman admitted that the BIE has repeatedly "neglected" reports issued by watchdogs like the OIG and the Government Accountability Office. That's put the lives of Indian students and teachers in danger as the nation focuses on keeping schools safe from all kinds of threats. "On this committee, we know all too well that Native students often have to fight for the same educational opportunities that many communities take for granted," said Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), the vice chairman of the panel.
Written testimony by @BureauIndianEdu Director Tony Dearman delivered today to the @IndianCommittee on “GAO High Risk List: Turning Around Vulnerable Indian” is available at https://t.co/aENsRungZf pic.twitter.com/dTbFDZpW4r— Indian Affairs (@USIndianAffairs) June 13, 2018
The BIE in fact has known about the problems at the Pine Hill Schools, which are located on the Ramah portion of the Navajo Nation, for years. In one of those "neglected" reports, the OIG in January 2016 highlighted the lack of fire protection systems. "A school official told us that the alarm system has not functioned properly since the school was hit by lightning around 2005," the report stated. That wasn't the only issue. A site visit turned up numerous safety threats, including exposed electrical wiring, extensive water damage and mold, highly deteriorated infrastructure, unsanitary conditions, improperly installed equipment throughout the school grounds. There was even barbed wire and fencing material left around by the boarding school dormitory at Pine Hills, the OIG said. "We found that Pine Hill Boarding School is not safe: Facilities are not properly maintained, and known hazards that endanger students, staff and visitors are ignored," the report stated.
Fixing the problems requires money and there isn't enough of it. Funding for Indian schools has fallen dramatically since the George W. Bush years and despite a spike in funding at the beginning of the Obama years thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the BIE has failed to regain ground. The Trump administration has promised a huge investment in Indian schools with a new infrastructure fund but it depends on increased energy development on public lands. It also must be approved by Congress. "We do look forward to working with Congress to make sure that BIE schools are included," Dearman said on May 16.
Figures for the effort, though, are incomplete. While the BIE admits to a $643 million backlog in deferred maintenance, no one knows how much it will cost to replace or renovate the worst of schools. One figure, found in an OIG report from September 2016, estimated that just fixing the worst 68 schools would cost about $1.3 billion. But that amount was itself based on old data -- the so-called Bronner report that was presented to the BIA in 2012. "If ever there was a group of children in America who deserve the attention, it's Native American and indigenous children," Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) said at the hearing in May.
Wonderful Graduation Ceremony at Pine Hill High School. Seniors this is a great accomplishment, but only one of many...Posted by Ramah Navajo Police Department on Friday, May 18, 2018
Fire Alarm and Suppression Systems at BIE-Funded School Not Fully Functioning (July 2, 2018) Prior Office of Inspector General Reports:
BIE Teachers’ Federal Salaries Illegally Supplemented (April 9, 2018)
Alleged Embezzlement at BIE Funded Tribally Controlled Grant School (April 9, 2018)
Embezzlement at Shonto Preparatory School (March 15, 2018)
The Bureau of Indian Education Is Not Ensuring That Background Checks at Indian Education Facilities Are Complete (February 12, 2018)
Company Overbilled Tribal Schools (December 14, 2017) Related Stories:
Secretary Zinke blames Democrats for delaying Indian Affairs nominee (July 3, 2018)
Bureau of Indian Affairs finally lands a leader in the Trump era (June 29, 2018)
'Very little progress': Lawmakers question Trump administration's Indian affairs record (June 14, 2018)
Secretary Zinke suggests sending children from troubled homes to boarding school (May 30, 2018)
Bureau of Indian Education faces questions about safety and security (May 15, 2018)
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs sets hearing on school safety (May 7, 2018)
Bureau of Indian Affairs teachers accepted illegal payments from tribe (April 10, 2018)
Native students subjected to higher rates of discipline in public schools (April 4, 2018)
Indian students win round in bid to hold government accountable (April 2, 2018)
Native Sun News Today: Pine Ridge girls walk out for gun reform (March 22, 2018)
Indian students demand action to prevent violence at their schools (March 15, 2018)
Cronkite News: Nationwide walkout a month after deadly school shooting (March 15, 2018)
YES! Magazine: Students explain why they want stronger gun laws (March 15, 2018)
Cronkite News: Students call for stronger gun control measures (March 13, 2018)
Doug George-Kanentiio: Iroquois solutions to mass killings in America (February 26, 2018)
YES! Magazine: Youth take lead from Standing Rock to school shootings (February 26, 2018)
Cronkite News: Students march for removal of officers at their schools (February 26, 2018)
Cronkite News: Students stage walkout to call for reform of gun laws (February 22, 2018)
YES! Magazine: Let's learn from states where gun violence has fallen (February 21, 2018)
Cronkite News: Students plan national walkout in bid for gun reform (February 20, 2018)
Tim Giago: When are Republicans willing to talk about gun violence in America? (October 5, 2017)