Federal Court revives complaint in Havasupai education case

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A federal appeals court has revived a claim in a lawsuit that alleged the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education failed to provide basic education services to Native American students at a school located at the bottom of a gorge off the Grand Canyon.

Many claims in the lawsuit that parents of children from Havasupai Elementary filed in 2017 have been resolved. The one centered on basic education like fine arts and economics is now returning to the United States District Court for further proceedings.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled this week that two plaintiffs who were dismissed from the trial because they no longer attended Havasupai Elementary School could apply for compensatory education from the Bureau of Indian Education.

“This is a landmark decision,” said Alexis DeLaCruz, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. “This is the first time – whether it becomes precedent or not – that a federal appeals court has sided with Indigenous students by saying ‘you have a way forward to hold the federal government accountable for your general education. . “”

The Bureau of Indian Education oversees more than 180 schools that serve Native Americans in nearly two dozen states, but directly operates less than a third of them. Other claims in the lawsuit related to special education and mental health needs have been resolved.

Parents of the Havasupai children said basic education was largely limited to math and reading. The lawsuit argued that the Indian Education Bureau also has a duty to provide health, consumer education, fine arts, physical education, a fully functioning library and other subjects.

The Home Office, which includes the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education, declined to comment on Thursday. The government can request a new hearing before the full 9th ​​Circuit.

The Indian Education Bureau has acknowledged that it failed to provide basic education to students at Havasupai Elementary School, but Justice Department lawyer Laura Myron called it a sufficiency and not failure.

Myron told a panel of three 9th Circuit judges that there are many practical obstacles in the operation of the school which is only accessible by helicopter or by hiking eight miles. She also argued that the plaintiffs were not seeking redress through the proper channel.

“The filing confirms that the agency is attempting to comply with regulations,” Myron said.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Kathryn Eidmann, countered that “legally, regulations do not become unenforceable simply because compliance may be difficult”.

She said obstacles cited by the government are entirely her fault when it created the Havasupai reservation from a fraction of the tribe’s ancestral land that spanned 4,687 square miles (12,139 square kilometers). ) from northern Arizona. Part of the ancestral land became part of the Grand Canyon National Park.

Parents of the Havasupai children and their attorneys say education issues at Havasupai Elementary have only worsened during the coronavirus pandemic with limited in-person instruction and broadband services.

A parent said he was printing extra teaching materials online for his two children in primary school so they wouldn’t fall further behind. The Havasupai tribe is offering remedial educational services to children to supplement what is offered at school, the tribe wrote in court documents.

Havasupai children have no other choice to go to primary school on their land. Students are kicked off the reservation for high school but are sometimes frustrated and drop out because they feel unprepared, the tribe said.

“So there is a larger context to this case: the failure of the federal government to educate these children has had, and continues to have, an outsized destructive effect not only on the children themselves, but on an already vulnerable,” the tribe said. written in court documents.

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