PHOENIX (CN) — Havasupai families say in a federal lawsuit that the United States refuses to provide their children with basic education, assigns janitors to teach classes, but only math, reading and writing, because the school has “no science, history, social studies, foreign language, arts, or physical education curriculum.”
The co-plaintiff/attorney Native American Disability Law Center describes Havasupai Elementary School as a disaster in its 103-page lawsuit of Jan. 12.
It claims that sixth-graders at the school are nearly illiterate, that grade levels are combined due to lack of staffing, and that “The only subject areas in which Havasupai Elementary School provides instruction are math, reading, and writing. There is no science, history, social studies, foreign language, arts, or physical education curriculum. Nor does the School provide culturally relevant instruction, such as instruction in the Havasupai language.”
The complaint continues: “The longstanding failure to adequately staff Havasupai Elementary School has caused persistent teacher and staff vacancies. These vacancies have caused the school to shut down for weeks at a time, and the vacancies are covered by non-certificated personnel, such as the school janitor or secretary, or by temporary staff who rotate in and out on two-week details.”
The school has a shortage of textbooks, no “functioning school library” and no extracurricular activities, such as sports, arts, music or clubs.
Havasupai Elementary School, in Lake Havasu City, has about 385 students, according to its website, checked Tuesday morning, and last updated in 2013. The website says the school has an “A” rating from the Arizona Department of Education.
It has been difficult to recruit teachers to Indian schools for decades, often because of their remote locations, poor facilities and low pay.
The most recent statistics from the Bureau of Indian Education, from 2014, said Havasupai Elementary School children tested in 1st percentile in reading and 3rd percentile in math, according to the complaint.
Many are learning English as a second language, it adds, and “none of the teaching staff speak the Havasupai language.”
In this academic year, the principal, counselor, and first-grade teacher positions were left vacant, and the school combined the kindergarten and first-grade groups into one classroom, according to the complaint.
“Teacher and staff vacancies have lasted for months and even years,” the complaint says. In addition to using janitors and secretaries as fill-ins, “Instead of certified teachers or trained aides, older children at the school sometimes help ‘teach’ in these classrooms,” the complaint states.
About half of the school’s students have special needs, some of them due to trauma.
The Bureau of Indian Education and Department of the Interior are the lead defendants.
“The BIE has not provided my grandson with a decent education,” Frank C., guardian of lead plaintiff Stephen C., said in a statement through the Native American Disability Law Center.
“My grandson has special needs, but the school is not even trying to help him. Instead, he is sent home from school almost every day. He is in sixth grade, but he can barely read or spell basic words.”
Disabled children are frequently sent home when teachers become overwhelmed.
“Because the school lacks the capacity to meet student needs by providing adequate specialized instruction or related services, students with disabilities are relegated to ‘homebound’ placements or placed on restricted-hours schedules under which students receive only 3-5 hours of instruction per week,” the complaint states.
Elementary children also have been turned over to police for acting out.
“Eleven-year-old Plaintiff Stephen C. was indicted in federal court for pulling the cord out of the back of computer monitor,” according to the complaint.
“Twelve-year-old Plaintiff Durell P., who has multiple disabilities and was the victim of sexual abuse as a young child, is currently being criminally prosecuted for assault for pushing a teacher. He spent over a week at the CRIT [Colorado Rive Indian Tribes] detention facility.”
The families seek declaratory judgment that the defendants have failed to provide Havasupai children with a basic education, in violation of 5 U.S.C. § 706. They also want the defendants ordered to write and institute a real curriculum, including Havasupai culture, adequate help for students with disabilities and special needs, and remedial education, including for students who no longer attend the school.
The Department of the Interior does not comment on pending litigation.
Native American Disability Law Center attorney Alexis DeLaCruz said in a statement: “This is an eminently fixable problem.”
He added: ““As a result of these shock-the-conscience deprivations, Havasupai children lack even a fighting chance at achieving academic success and reaching their full potential.”