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Lawsuit errors Bureau of Indian schools

  • FILE – In this Sept. 25, 2014 file photo, students walk between buildings at the Little Singer Community School in Birdsprings, Ariz., on the Navajo Nation. A federal lawsuit filed Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017, according to U.S. Bureau of Indian schools are a chronic shortage of staff, lack of systems to the special education and have a deficient curriculum. A coalition of interest groups announced the lawsuit in which the Havasupai students in a northern Arizona school in the Grand Canyon, but that may affect other BIE schools. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

    (Associated Press)

  • FILE – In this Sept. 26, 2014 file photo, students and teachers recite the “oath of Allegiance” during a meeting at the Crystal Boarding School in Crystal, N. M., on the Navajo Nation. A federal lawsuit filed Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017, according to U.S. Bureau of Indian schools are a chronic shortage of staff, lack of systems to the special education and have a deficient curriculum. A coalition of interest groups announced the lawsuit in which the Havasupai students in a northern Arizona school in the Grand Canyon, but that may affect other BIE schools. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

    (Associated Press)

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ALBUQUERQUE, N. M. – A small, remote Indian village in the picturesque base of one of the most visited places on earth, is the center of a lawsuit that aims to drastically reform the conditions of the U.S. Bureau of the Indian schools.

The agency failed to protect the students on the Havasupai indian reservation in the Grand Canyon by ignoring the complaints about an understaffed school, a lack of special education and a poor curriculum, according to a complaint filed Thursday in a U.S. district Court in Phoenix.

Havasupai Chairman Don E. Watahomigie said that his Arizona village is only accessible with a helicopter or an eight mile-long stroll on a horse through the Grand Canyon. But the 70 or so children who participate in Havasupai elementary School are entitled to the same education as the other students in the whole country, ” he said.

“The Havasupai Tribal Council has approached the Bureau of Indian Education many times about his failure,” Watahomigie said. “Every time we raise these issues we are promises that are never delivered.”

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of nine students, said the school often sent students with special needs home sooner or called the police to deal with bad behavior associated with their conditions. In addition, the school only math and reading, and not to expose children to topics such as science, social studies and physical education, the lawsuit said.

“These circumstances are not unique to the Havasupai,” Kathryn Eidmann, a lawyer in Los Angeles-based firm Public Counsel. “This is a crisis in BIE schools that the federal government has recognized again and again.”

Eidmann said that the lawsuit wants a “declaration” to force all the Bureau of Indian schools follow the law on the provision of special services and a thorough curriculum.

The U.S. Department of the Interior not immediately respond to an e-mail from The Associated Press.

Most of the Bureau of Indian schools are located in rural areas of reservations that are under the control of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs for decades.

The bureau oversees 183 schools in 23 states. The BIE also oversees the Haskell Indian Nations University in Kansas and Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in New Mexico.

The lawsuit is the latest in a string of problems for the Bureau of Indian education schools. For example, the agency faced scrutiny after a government watchdog report said in March that the officials had failed to ensure regular inspections were carried out at dozens of schools, where the safety risks, ranging from exposed electrical wiring and broken windows, a natural gas leak.

At one school, the Government Accountability Office, the researchers found four aging dormitory boiler failed an inspection and were blamed for high carbon monoxide levels and a natural gas leak, but were not restored until approximately eight months later.

Havasupai parents have complained that students entering the eighth grade, which is not with the basis knowledge of subjects such as geography and history.

Alexis DeLaCruz, a lawyer for the Native American Disability Law Center, said that half of the students who participate in Havasupai Elementary are classified as students with special needs.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter http://twitter.com/russcontreras . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras .

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