Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Loleta School Board to Discuss Voluntary Resolution to Civil Rights Complaint

Posted By on Wed, Dec 13, 2017 at 4:56 PM

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The Loleta School Board meets this evening to discuss a voluntary resolution agreement with the United States Department of Education that may conclude a four-year process kicked off in December of 2013 by a complaint from the Wiyot Tribe that the Loleta Union Elementary School District had engaged in discriminatory practices toward Native American students.

The complaint, lodged with help from the National Center for Youth Law, the ACLU of Northern California and California Indian Legal Services, led to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

According to a press release from the National Center of Youth Law, the investigation found evidence that the district "had created a hostile environment for Native American students, disciplined Native students more harshly than other students, and failed to provide legally mandated services for students with disabilities."

Some details from the original complaint include allegations that the superintendent of the district and principal of Loleta Elementary, Sally Hadden, had grabbed a Native American student's ear and said, "See how red it's getting?" Hadden was also accused of hitting students with a clipboard and kicking them in the buttocks. She resigned in June of 2014.

The school district was also accused of disciplining Native American students disproportionate to offenses and the complaint stated that these conditions had resulted in many parents transferring children out of the district.

According to the report, a copy of which can be found here, the school failed to meet obligations to students with special needs, never providing them with the special accommodations required by state law.

Lewis Cohen, director of communications for the NCYL, said the investigation had not found any "fresh incidents" of a hostile environment but the voluntary resolution agreement had paused the investigation. The agreement does not call for an admission of guilt.

"The idea behind the voluntary resolution agreement is to have a cooperative approach," he told the Journal in a phone interview. "The district has a chance to come up with a plan to fix things. That's a nice way of saying that we're not going to worry about who's culpable, we're just going to work to get to a better place. This investigation has been going on since 2013 so it's better for all of us to get to solutions than to keep arguing over the details."

According to the press release, the agreement "requires the district to hire experts to address these problems and to establish a community oversight committee with the participation of the tribes along with other stakeholders." The Wiyot Tribe has asked for a "mutually agreeable expert" with the tribe participating as a full stakeholder as a good faith effort.

The school board will discuss resolution tonight, holding a meeting with public comment at 5 p.m. in Room 8 of the Loleta Elementary School. The Wiyot Tribe, Bear River Band of Rohnerville Rancheria, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and California Indian Legal Services (CILS) will also  host a community meeting tomorrow night regarding the decision, from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Tish Non Community Center.

Current Loleta Elementary School Principal John Sutter could not be reached for comment by deadline.

From the National Center for Youth Law:

Loleta, CA – Tribal leaders are hailing the news that Loleta Union Elementary School District has entered into a Voluntary Resolution Agreement with U.S. Department of Education. The Loleta
School Board is scheduled to discuss the agreement at its December 13th board meeting, which will be held at 5pm in Room 8 at the Loleta Elementary School.
Leaders from the Wiyot Tribe and the Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria are now requesting that the district meaningfully include tribal leaders and community members as the  district works to fulfill the terms of the agreement. “We appreciate that the district’s current leadership has agreed to address longstanding concerns of our community,” said Ted
Hernandez, Tribal Chair of the Wiyot Tribe. “Entering into this agreement is an acknowledgement that the district can and must do better for our students.”
The agreement follows an investigation by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) into complaints that the Loleta Union Elementary School District was discriminating against Native students on the basis of race. The Wiyot Tribe filed the complaint in December of 2013 and was
represented by the National Center for Youth Law, the ACLU of Northern California, and California Indian Legal Services. The OCR investigation found substantial evidence that the district had created a hostile environment for Native American students, disciplined Native
students more harshly than other students, and failed to provide legally mandated services for students with disabilities. The complaint also charged the district with failing to pursue much needed funding opportunities targeted to districts with significant Native populations.
The agreement requires the district to hire experts to address these problems and to establish a community oversight committee with the participation of the tribes along with other stakeholders. Council member Madison Flynn says the Wiyot Tribe is ready to participate but, given the district’s troubling history, good faith measures are necessary. “The district needs to
hire a mutually agreeable expert that has the confidence of both the school employees and the community,” said Flynn. “If we are going to commit our time and resources to making this very ambitious plan work, we need to feel our engagement is meaningful and welcomed and that
we will be treated as full partners.”
Specifically, tribal representatives are requesting that an outside expert facilitator manage the community oversight committee to ensure all voices are heard and valued. Given the multiple overlapping deadlines for implementing key pieces of the agreement within the next year, the
tribal representatives want to ensure participation from the tribal councils, social service directors and parents of children at the school from both the Wiyot Tribe and the Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria, along with members of the school board, district officials, and representatives of the county Office of Education. “We all need to pull together to
accomplish the tasks set forth in the agreement,” said Vice-Chairperson Dakota McGinnis of the Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria. “Our children will need resources from Loleta and beyond to thrive and succeed.”
Attorney Denise H. Bareilles of California Indian Legal Services says the Stakeholder Equity Committee should form workgroups on: School Discipline, Evaluation, Placement and Service Implementation for Students with Disabilities, Harassment Based on Race or National Origin,
and Review of Policies Related to Participation in Graduation Exercises and Extracurricular Activities. “The OCR investigation identified deficiencies in each of these areas. Any plan to fix these problems will require concentrated and focused attention,” said Bareilles.

The tribal representatives recognize that this work will require resources. Noting that the district has a history of failing to pursue much-needed funding opportunities, the tribes are continuing to call upon the district to take advantage of the tribes’ familiarity and expertise in
funding opportunities targeted at Native American students. “We stand ready to help.” Said McGinnis. “We hope the district is ready to take us up on this offer.”
On Thursday, December 14th, the Wiyot Tribe, Bear River Band of Rohnerville Rancheria, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and California Indian Legal Services (CILS) will host a community meeting regarding the agreement between the Loleta Union Elementary School
District and the U.S. Department of Education. The meeting will take place from 6 – 7 PM at the Tish Non Community Center, Bear River Band of the Rohnerville Rancheria, and is intended for parents with children attending Loleta School, interested tribal members, and tribal staff. Those
who attend will learn more about the agreement, how to participate in a stakeholder committee to monitor the district’s compliance with the agreement, and how to report any ongoing issues to OCR. 

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Linda Stansberry

Linda Stansberry

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Linda Stansberry was a staff writer of the North Coast Journal from 2015 to 2018.

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