Representatives from Del Norte County’s tribal communities have resurrected a task force focusing on the progress of Native American students in local schools.
The group, which includes representatives from the Yurok Tribe, Smith River Rancheria and Elk Valley Rancheria, hopes to become a recognized committee within the Del Norte County Unified School District.
Its members plan to use the task force as a way of airing their concerns about matters they say are still unresolved, such as the district’s compliance with a 2010 American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit settlement agreement. The task force also hopes to reinstate an annual report card that includes academic performance data, school attendance, dropout rates and discipline data for local Native American students.
“Well over 600 students identify as American Indian within Del Norte schools,” said Jim McQuillen, the Yurok Tribe’s education director. “As the Yurok Tribe, we believe it’s very important to have (the task force) because it creates a point of contact where tribes can formally interface with the school district regarding our member students.”
The ACLU’s lawsuit was filed in 2007 following an investigation into a 2005 School Board decision to discontinue the sixth, seventh and eighth grades at Margaret Keating Elementary School. According to McQuillen, many parents, whose children were affected by the decision, felt that they did not have a voice in the School Board’s decision.
Children attending middle school at Margaret Keating were close to the Yurok Tribe’s offices and tribal activities, McQuillen said. When it reached the settlement agreement with the ACLU, the district agreed to implement American Indian culture curricula to all grade levels, sixth-grade in particular.
Under the settlement agreement, the district provided better transportation to Klamath students and agreed to develop Native American curricula for all grade levels. But, according to McQuillen, the district’s curriculum is only developed for grades kindergarten through fourth.
“The district has developed very fine curriculum,” McQuillen said. “But they’re in the fifth year of the settlement agreement.”
Steve Godla, the district’s assistant superintendent of instruction and educational service, said the school district is working with the ACLU on a resolution to that settlement agreement. District staff is also working with the Klamath community to bring back sixth, seventh and eighth grades to Margaret Keating.
Sixth grade was brought back to Margaret Keating for the 2013-14 school year, Godla said. District staff will likely meet again with the Klamath community about bringing back seventh and eighth grades, he said. Just one sixth-grader currently attends the school.
“We work with our staff and principals, as a matter of fact we had two articles to read at the last principal’s meeting relating to race and discipline,” Godla said. “We want to have follow-ups at staff meetings.”
The Native American Task Force started last school year, Godla said. But the meetings have been largely informal and the group doesn’t have a chairman. Godla said he would usually facilitate the meetings.
“I’d like to have an MOU (memorandum of understanding) so that it just always exists,” he said. “I’d like to have it be more official and have it chaired.”
The school district also has a subcommittee that meets and focuses on American Indian curriculum, Godla said.
Andre Cramblit, operations director for the Northern California Indian Development Council, who is also on the task force, said it will be able to make policy recommendations to the School Board. One issue the group dealt with, that Cramblit says hasn’t been entirely put to rest, is the Del Norte High School mascot icon controversy.
More than a decade after Del Norte High’s Indian chief logo was retired, a parent complained about equipment bags that Del Norte Youth Football issued to its players. The bag depicted an Indian brave icon.
After meetings when district officials stated that the Warrior head wouldn’t be used again due to a policy against symbols perceived as racially derogatory, youth football representatives said they would support the high school’s new icon. High school students decided on a Spartan helmet as the school’s new logo.
But at the School Board’s Dec. 12 meeting, Don Steinruck, another task force member, told trustees that youth football coaches are still wearing clothing with the old Indian chief logo on it. Youth football holds its games and practices on school district property.
Cramblit said the task force thought the mascot issue was a “dead issue,” but it is unresolved.
“We thought it was finished last year,” he said. “The people that supported (the Indian head) said they would give it up. It’s a battle we have to continue to fight.”
Cramblit said the reinstated task force is an opportunity for the district to work with the native community.
“I’ve really appreciated the district’s openness and willingness to work with the native community and keeping an open ear and an open mind,” he said. “It’s important not only for our students, but for all students, to look at these issues. We live together and we interact with each other and it’s important we learn to respect the needs and concerns of all of our community members.”
The Native American Task Force’s next meeting will be on Jan. 21 inside the Redwood Conference Room at the district’s main office at 301 W. Washington Boulevard in Crescent City.