December 17, 2007
Today I read this most disturbing article in the Salt Lake
Tribune regarding the school systems on the reservation. Another stark
reminder of the racism that continues to exist in Utah resulting in
segregation and substandard education for the indigenous people. Those words
that I have heard so many times are now ringing in my ears, "We (meaning the
Mormon church) have given the Indians every opportunity to succeed, ...it's
their own damn fault." Here in this article educators are accused of being
racist. Teachers of all people are demoralizing their own students, our
children, our American citizens. But because these are Native American
Indians, this most likely will be ignored. Whereas if these were white
students, and a white school system in would be national news.
Fort Duchesne School Closed After
Failing To Meet Fed Standards
By Julia Lyon
The Salt Lake Tribune
Updated: 12/17/2007 08:07:33 PM MST
Posted: 8:06 PM- If the goal of No Child Left Behind is to shut down the
worst schools in America, then the federal government has scored its first
success in Utah.
After seven years of failing to meet testing and attendance
requirements, seeing its student numbers plunge and its reputation decline,
West Middle School in Fort Duchesne is shutting its doors. The school was
technically the worst in the state. With fewer students came fewer teachers.
No band to learn flute in. No wrestling team to join.
Forced by federal No Child Left Behind rules to restructure West, the
Uintah County School Board decided to send the kids on a 20-mile bus ride to
Vernal instead of shoring up a deteriorating institution. This is the first
school in Utah whose struggles to meet NCLB led to its demise.
The roughly 120 students will leave a school almost entirely populated
by American Indians to attend schools that are nearly exclusively white.
This fact, tribal parents fear, along with a long bus trip is not the best
decision for their children.
Rather than being forced to get out of bed early, the students should be
able to receive the same education in their own community, parents say. The
school is surrounded by the Uintah and Ouray Reservation with several
Guzman, chairwoman of the Timpanogos education board. "We want the same
type of education that the students in the Vernal schools are receiving."
This fall when the Uintah School District considered options for the
school's future - its enrollment history and the cost of operating and
updating the school - locking the doors seemed the fastest and most
economical step toward a solution. There had been complaints that West was a
de facto segregated school, said Superintendent Charles Nelson, and bringing
the seventh- and eighth-grade students to Vernal schools would immediately
provide them with a variety of classes and extracurriculur activities.
Exactly when West Middle will close remains undecided. It could take
place as early as the middle of January.
The West Middle School property is slated to become home to a new K-6
elementary school, though tribal members hope the school could accommodate
additional grades. That could allow American Indian middle school students
to stay in the community and off the bus. On Wednesday, the Uintah board of
education will meet with tribal members to hear their ideas.
What's offered as a solution to a failing school is more of a question
mark, said Curtis Cesspooch, chairman of the tribal business committee.
"The other comments that are made: 'Will this new school guarantee
students better academics? Are we going to ensure they are going to learn?'
" he said.
Over the years, racial tensions have existed between tribal
members and the district.
"Teachers are just blatant," Guzman said. "They outright say very harsh
things to their students about their culture and who they are."
If that is the teachers' attitude when the American Indian students
arrive at the new schools, "that's not a positive learning environment," she
The district is aware of the racial and cultural concerns and is
planning cultural sensitivity training for the staffs at the junior high and
middle school in Vernal. When West closes, a transition specialist will be
hired for Vernal Middle School.
Vernal Junior High Principal Kent Bunderson remembers riding 30
miles on a bus to go to high school when he lived in Emery County years ago.
It's something people get used to, he said.
"I can understand that folks would have some concerns that suddenly
they're not going to be right next door, but they'll have a lot more and
different opportunities," the principal said.
He sees that students who get involved take ownership in the school.
"We'll welcome those students with open arms," he said.
- JULIA LYON can be contacted at email@example.com or 801-257-8748