Critics: Feds reopened tribal schools without asking or advising tribes
The latest plans cap months of missteps by BIE, critics said, beginning in spring when the agency moved slowly to close schools, a move Gallego said ended with the deaths of some school employees. Sue Parton, president of the Federation of Indian Service Employees, said her members also faced a lack of information or “mixed messaging” from officials in the spring. “They were getting guidelines from the federal government and as federal employees, they felt compelled to follow the guidelines of the federal government, but then they would get a different set of guidelines from the state governor wherever their school is located,” Parton said. “And quite often, they would get other guidance from the tribal leaders, if they were located on or near a reservation. So they started calling the union saying, what do we do? Who do we follow?” Gallego said such “hiccups may have been understandable in March,” but he called it “disturbing that we’re seeing those same problems arise in September, when BIE has had months to prepare.” Lance Witte, superintendent and principal of Lower Brule Schools in South Dakota, said his BIE grant-funded schools were able to reopen this fall using a hybrid model only because they had put their plan in place “long before the guidelines were released, based on conversations with tribes and local public schools.” That plan calls for the majority of students learning remotely at any given time.
"Our teachers are strong and adaptable and missed their students very much. Our students are capable and ready. Thanks for a great first week online Eagles! #Accept #Adapt #Aspire #Achieve" – Navajo Preparatory School— BureauIndianEdu (@BureauIndianEdu) September 1, 2020
Learn more about #returntolearn here: https://t.co/XG2DZ3rpeD pic.twitter.com/5BmjqAVQoR
Lower Brule’s hybrid model is only possible because the school “took a very aggressive move,” using CARES Act funding to install broadband for school families. But even that plan was delayed when the district did not receive the funding until June 29 – a reminder of the chronic underfunding of BIE schools, Witte said. “Unfortunately, this pandemic-related impact merely compounds the annual funding crisis we face because of federal underfunding,” he said. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, pointed to that underfunding as evidence of the “second-class status given to the 42,000 students that utilize BIE.” “The hardest-hit, most impactful in terms of infection and mortality per capita has been in Indian Country, and yet we’re being asked to rush this,” Grijalva said of the BIE’s reopening plan. Gallego said BIE is welcome to come back and defend its plan any time it wants. “We understand the stakes of the public health crisis we’re in,” Gallego said of the decision to hold a virtual hearing. “From the refusal (to appear), it’s clear that the BIE does not understand those stakes, which is why I’m extremely concerned about their ability to oversee safety openings at BIE-run schools this fall.” For more stories from Cronkite News, visit cronkitenews.azpbs.org.
"We had a GREAT first day at Tucker Elementary! It was wonderful to see students back in the desks! (We think they were glad to be back, too!)"- Tucker Elementary School, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. Learn more about #returntolearn here: https://t.co/XG2DZ3rpeD pic.twitter.com/z0iL27757q— BureauIndianEdu (@BureauIndianEdu) September 1, 2020
Note: This story originally appeared on Cronkite News. It is published via a Creative Commons license. Cronkite News is produced by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.
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