Our View: School district needs to answer questions

May 03, 2006 12:00 am

The recent finding by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights that the Del Norte County School District violated federal law in closing the upper grades at Klamath's Margaret Keating School raises some serious questions.

Was there, as the federal agency has concluded, a racial undercurrent influencing the school board's decision to transfer sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders from Margaret Keating — a school on the Yurok Indian Reservation where two-thirds of the students are Native Americans — to Crescent Elk Middle School, 20 miles away?

How can the school district, which billed the closure as an important cost-saving move, be so self-assured in continuing to justify it that way when the actual annual savings has penciled out to a meager $25,000?

And how exactly, after just a couple of informal meetings with Margaret Keating parents and next to no documentation of its public and private discussions, did the school board reach its decision — especially in light of the fact that the district's own Blue Ribbon Committee had recommended closing Pine Grove Elementary School in Crescent City as the preferred cost saving option?

Unfortunately, in its response to the federal report the school district appears unwilling to do anything remotely resembling the sort of self-reflection that might lead to real answers.

Del Norte Superintendent Jan Moorehouse — who in fairness was not in that office last spring when the decision was made — was quick to express her strong disagreement with the federal finding that the school district had violated Title VI of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act. Moorehouse said she in unwilling to accept the conclusion of the Office for Civil Rights.

"I'm absolutely certain it was not a correct conclusion," she said. "It's like in the absence of absolute proof otherwise, the assumption is that it must have been racially motivated — which it wasn't."

We're not saying it was racially motivated. But parents of some of the Native American children affected by the Margaret Keating decision have certainly made it known that they believe that's a distinct possibility. It was those parents' complaints, in fact, that led to the Office for Civil Rights' investigation.

Should those parents decide to push the issue in the courts, citing the federal agency's finding that the school board "treated the predominantly Native American school differently than schools with predominantly white populations," the district could be hard pressed to defend itself.

And that should be reason enough for school officials to start asking — and answering — the tough questions.

— The Daily Triplicate