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Wolf Point schools defend education practices after federal lawsuit alleges discrimination against Native Americans

Posted at 6:38 PM, Jan 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-17 14:50:34-04

WOLF POINT- Allegations of discrimination and harassment in Wolf Point schools are now getting federal attention and action.

On Friday, a statement was sent to Q2 from attorney Jeana Lervick on behalf of Wolf Point Schools stating:

“The District takes and has taken these allegations seriously, and works exceptionally hard to ensure that all of its students are provided the best possible education.”

Lervick’s statement was in response to Friday morning’s announcement that the U.S. Department of Education announced will investigate whether the Wolf Point School District has mistreated Native American students and violated their federal civil rights laws.

The Montana Office of Public Instruction is not involved with the federal complaint, but the leaders there say they have been working on issues with Wolf Point schools for some time.

OPI communications director, Dylan Klapmeier says, “Wolf Point middle school is receiving targeted support for English language learners, many of whom are Native American.”

OPI’s Indian education division is also working with the district on culturally responsive practices, behavioral support, and Native youth conferences.

Klapmeier says, ”Obviously the allegations coming out of this complaint are troubling. We want to ensure that all of our reservation schools and American Indian students are receiving the fair education that they deserve.”

This investigation comes more than a year after a complaint was filed with the federal government. The complaint included Native American students describing harassment and disparate treatment. 

The attorney who filed the complaint on behalf of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, Melina Healey says, “she is very pleased that the department of education has decided to investigate ongoing discrimination in the wolf point school district.

She also said that this is a problem nationwide, but it’s particularly acute in this district.

“In our complaint, we demonstrate the statistical evidence of discrimination against native students, in particular, native students in the district are twice as likely to receive an in or out of school suspension along with dozens of stories of students with who have an unfairly treated or disciplined.”

Healey thinks that the public and national attention will put a spotlight on this issue and will cause school districts to reflect on how they native students, and what can they do to create more of an equal situation for school districts on reservations.

According to a news release from the New York School of Law Professor who filed the tribe’s complaint, the office of civil rights will investigate allegations that the Wolf Point school district subjected native students to more severe punishment.  Also, Native students with disabilities were placed in alternative programs and went without instruction for weeks. Adding that the district failed to provide basic accommodations for native students with disabilities and ignored racial harassment in the classroom.