Jessica Cejnar
The Del Norte Triplicate

Del Norte County Unified School District officials today will discuss a settlement agreement stemming from a 2007 American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit that addressed allegations of racial discrimination against Native American students.

The Board of Trustees is poised to approve a proposed extension of the five-year settlement agreement, which was reached in 2009. This will allow the district to continue to develop curriculum that teaches the history, culture and language of Del Norte's Native American tribes, the ACLU of Northern California announced on Wednesday.

If approved, the settlement agreement will be set to expire in August 2017, according to the ACLU.

The original ACLU lawsuit against the district stemmed from a 2005 School Board decision to take away grades six, seven and eight at Margaret Keating School in Klamath, said Steve Godla, assistant superintendent of instruction and educational services.

Since then, the district has worked with local representatives of the Yurok Tribe and Smith River Rancheria to form the American Indian Education Advisory Council, which is working to develop the new curriculum, Godla said. The Council also works to improve academic achievement and educational opportunities for the district's American Indian students, which account for about 13.6 percent of its student population, he said.

"The extension was jointly worked on by the ACLU and (the district)," Godla said. "The School Board would have to approve it. We're jointly presenting it to them."

Jim McQuillen, education director for the Yurok Tribe, speculated that the school district was four years behind in implementing the original settlement agreement. In addition to introducing American Indian curriculum to grades three, four, five, eight, 11 and 12, the settlement agreement required the school district to address the disproportionate discipline rates among American Indian students and look for alternatives to suspension and expulsion, he said.

"There's lots of good things in there," McQuillen said of the settlement agreement. "The extension could be good not only for American Indian kids, but all kids to get an appreciation of local American Indian history and culture. That leads to a better understanding of each other and the community they live within."

Since the school district entered into the settlement agreement with the ACLU, the Klamath community has also discussed bringing the middle school grades back to Margaret Keating.

Following two community meetings in February 2013, sixth grade was reintroduced to the school in the fall. Godla said the district would be open to bringing seventh and eighth grades back if the parents were receptive, but so far there has been no discussion about that.

McQuillen, however, said the Klamath community continues to ask if the district will follow through on its promise to reinstate the sixth, seventh and eighth grades at Margaret Keating School. To make students want to continue with middle school in Klamath, the district would need to add another teacher and any other support that would make Margaret Keating an attractive school, McQuillen said.

"When the plug was pulled on the grade levels, there were middle school sports happening," McQuillen said. "There was a lot of support and a lot of energy happening there. Adding (middle school) back in with no support, kids are going to go 'I'm not going to go back. There's nothing happening there.'"

The Del Norte County Unified School District Board of Trustees meets at 4:30 p.m. at the district office at 301 W. Washington Blvd. in Crescent City. Agendas are available

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