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Commentary by Phillip B Gottfredson

 

Fort Duchesne School Closed After Failing To Meet Fed Standards

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

Article Last 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 thousand Timpanogos.

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 said.


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 jlyon@sltrib.com or 801-257-8748