Navajo School Sues for Info on Education Reorganization

PHOENIX (CN) – The Bureau of Indian Education is keeping Navajo school boards in the dark about its plans to reorganize, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court.

The Diné Bi’ Olta School Board Association – which is based out of Window Rock, Arizona – filed a complaint against the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Education last week claiming it denied the association information about a Department of the Interior order that promised to reorganize BIE.

Neither of the association’s two Freedom of Information Act requests have received a concrete response, according to the complaint.

The Department of the Interior’s Secretarial Order No. 3334 was issued in June 2014, detailing an “urgent case for reform” within the BIE.

“These challenges include difficulty in attracting effective teachers to BIE schools located in remote locations, achieving compliance with academic standards in 23 different States, promoting research-based reforms in tribally controlled schools, resource constraints, and institutional and budgetary fragmentation,” the 70-page order says.

It calls for an improvement in the performance of schools and BIE’s responsiveness to the schools’ needs.

“DBOSBA [the association] seeks to ensure that its member school boards, who are elected officials of the Navajo Nation, are properly informed about any such operations, activities, and/or plans,” the nine-page complaint says.

The association sent its request for more information on Oct. 27, 2016. It also sought a fee waiver, since the information it was seeking was in the public interest. In December, the BIE FOIA coordinator replied that she would be on leave until January, and that she would respond to the requests no later than February.

But the association says it hasn’t heard from her or anyone else at the BIE or DoI since then, even after filing an appeal in January.

The association is the only conglomerate of Navajo school boards officially recognized by the Navajo Nation, and relies on BIE for federal funding. It claims its FOIA requests seek information the association needs “in order for DBOSBA to fulfill its statutory mandates with regard to federally-funded schools on the Navajo Nation.”

The association is represented by William Kelly of the Frye Law Firm in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Kelly did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Department of the Interior does not comment on pending litigation.