Native American parents crowded into the small Plummer-Worley School District office Wednesday and accused school officials of being biased against their children.
“There’s been a lot of Native kids getting kicked out of school, and we’re wondering why,” said Cindy Williams, a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.
While trustees and administrators deny the allegations of racism, the school board agreed to hold a special meeting May 1 to further address the parents’ concerns.
After some of the more than 30 parents in attendance expressed interest in sitting on the school board, the board agreed to publish election notices in the Coeur d’Alene tribal newspaper.
The board meeting began with an expulsion hearing for Williams’ 12-year-old son, Travis. School officials say he was fighting, talking back to teachers and talking in class.
Williams was livid, saying her son was picked on for years, coming home in tears after being punched, knocked down and spit on by other kids, some of them Indian.
School officials did little to protect him, she said.
Now, when he’s finally fighting back, she said, the school is tossing him out.
On Wednesday, the school board decided to reinstate the boy, provided he signs a contract agreeing to behave.
Other Indian parents expressed their concerns prior to the meeting.
Joanna Curley, a tribal Head Start teacher, said she pulled her daughter out of Plummer Middle School two months ago.
“She was having problems with one other girl, and my daughter was always the one in trouble,” said Curley.
“That other girl never got in trouble. “I told the principal I thought he was just prejudiced, and the teachers, too,” said Curley, a member of Montana’s Flathead Tribe.
Parent Tim Allen, a Coeur d’Alene Indian, also pulled his teenage daughter out of a district school, but not because of racism. The problem, he felt, was that teachers didn’t have enough time to help his daughter.
“She’s a regular student like anybody else. If you take time to show her what to do, she’ll get it down,” he said.
Like Curley, he transferred his daughter to the tribal school in DeSmet, Idaho.
“She really enjoys it. They’ve got three teachers in the classroom,” said Allen. “She was flunking mathematics in Plummer and now - it’s the same kind of math - she’s getting 95s and 98s. She’s made a big change.”
In interviews before the meeting, school administrators insisted race plays no part in their decisions to discipline students.
“When they step across the line, I don’t look at their color,” said Bruce Lust, principal of Lakeside Middle School. About 40 percent of the Plummer-Worley students are Indian.
The students don’t bring up the issue of discrimination, Lust said. He hears about it from parents whose children are being disciplined, he said.
District Superintendent Robert Singleton agreed. “The discontent has come from parents whose students are totally out of control,” he said.
Expulsions are sometimes necessary to ensure safety, he said. Last month, “we had a student who went through the (middle school) building with a baseball bat and broke out about $5,000 worth of windows.”
The school board has expelled two students this year: one was white, the other Indian.
Racial discontent, Singleton said, is “limited.”
About 10 percent of the schools’ budget is federal funds, much of it paid in lieu of taxes for the 250 students who live on reservation land.
“It’s been declining every year,” Singleton said of the federal money.
The school district also received $100,000 in the past two years from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s gaming revenues.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Expulsion The Plummer/Worley schools have a three-level discipline process. Lakeside Middle School Principal Bruce Lust says it works like this: Level A: Minor misbehavior. If not corrected, student goes to Level B. Level B: One- to three-day suspensions for these activities: use, sale or possession of tobacco; skipping class or school; fighting; unauthorized entry into another student’s locker, use of foul or obscene language, defiance of teacher’s command. Student allowed to stay in school unless he or she is abusive. Level C: Three- to five-day suspensions from school for possessing or using narcotics or alcohol, stealing, school vandalism, illegal entry, extortion, incendiary action including false alarms, possession of weapons, destruction of school property, threats against persons or property. Expulsion: At a closed hearing, the school board can decide to expel a student after Level C suspensions have failed to correct misbehavior.
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