05 July 2005

Zack Eagle Hawk

Shameful! What the hell happened to the "No Child Left Behind Act"? Oops! I guess that only pertains to White Christian children in nice neighborhoods...

I've fired off a salvo of emails and letters to government officials over this one. Watch this space for updates...

ACLU intervenes at high school
Posted: July 04, 2005
by: David Melmer / Indian Country Today

RAPID CITY, S.D. - Seventeen-year-old Zack Eagle Hawk will not return to school in Winner, S.D. He has had too many suspensions, court appearances and racially motivated harassment's to allow continued learning in the public school.

Eagle Hawk moved with his mother from Indiana to Winner in 2003. Prior to that time he had never been in trouble at school; in fact, he loved math and reading mysteries, dramas and sports autobiographies.

But once in Winner, he was suspended for drawing a medicine wheel and writing ''Native Pride'' in his notebook - symbols of gang activity, the school administration said. Law enforcement authorities in Winner said there was no gang activity in the small border town, which abuts the Rosebud Sioux Reservation.

In January, Eagle Hawk, while in a physical education class overheard one white student say, ''I guess it is time to throw rocks at greasy Indians.'' The boy admitted he said that to Eagle Hawk and called him a dirty Indian.

Eagle Hawk was suspended for harassment.

Eagle Hawk's adversary also used racial slurs and curse words. School records do not show Eagle Hawk's harasser was ever punished.
At a press conference, Eagle Hawk said the students at Winner kept insisting he was a member of a Rapid City gang. Eagle Hawk said he had never been in Rapid City until the day of the press conference. Rapid City is 220 miles from Winner.

The Rosebud Tribal Council teamed up with the American Civil Liberties Union to file a complaint to the U.S. Department of Education on behalf of 14 American Indian families. The complaint asks that an investigation, which in 1997 revealed misconduct against the American Indian students in the middle and high schools, be reopened on the Winner School District. An agreement was worked out in 2000, and by 2004 the Education Department was satisfied the district had solved the problems and closed the case. The complainants want the case reopened.

The school asserts that there is no difference in the discipline policy for non-Indian and American Indian students and stands by the report it gave the Department of Education.

The ACLU investigation turned up evidence that - in practice - there is a major difference. Most of the data collected by the ACLU came from school and court records.

The American Indian student population in middle and high school is 25 percent. The out-of-school suspension rate for American Indian students is 59 percent and in-school suspension is at 85 percent.
The Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council, the Rosebud Department of Education and the ACLU charge that the Winner School District manipulated its records to present the Office of Civil Rights with a grossly distorted picture of its disciplinary practice and racial relations.
''Through its discriminatory practices, the Winner School District systematically pushes Native American children out of its schools, often into the juvenile justice system.

''To permit Winner Schools to remain above the law will encourage other school districts to engage in the same illegal activities with the same impunity,'' said Robin Dahlberg, senior staff attorney with the ACLU.

School officials declined requests for comment.

The problems found in Winner are part of a national trend toward get-tough policies on school misconduct, the ACLU stated. That policy leads to increased suspensions for trivial conduct and the use of law enforcement to handle minor school discipline.

''We found that the Winner School District is systematically forcing Indian children out; forcing them to go to school elsewhere, far from home; forcing them to drop out and increasingly forcing them to juvenile detention facilities,'' said Catherine Kim, attorney for the ACLU.
She said that one-quarter of the students in the middle and high school are American Indian, but only two graduated from high school in the last year the statistics are available.

The No Child Left Behind Act was supposed to stop that practice, but educators said it is encouraging more suspensions to keep the students with higher test scores in class while turning out the lower-achieving students.

Jennifer Ring, executive director for the ACLU of the Dakotas, said Winner is not the only border town accused of racial harassment with discipline. She said complaints come to her office from larger cities and smaller towns, mostly bordering the reservation.

More and more children are leaving school with criminal records instead of high school diplomas, Kim said. A number of problems in Winner point to the misuse of the school board's gang policy, which defines gang activity as a group of individuals involved in two or more felonies or misdemeanors.

''When a Native American kid writes 'Native Pride' in his notebook or draws pictures of coyotes or peace pipes, this rule punishes them for gang-related activity and sends them to the authorities,'' Kim said.
Another complaint about Winner is that Caucasian students harass American Indian students and school officials do nothing to stop the activity. ''If a Native American kid fights back, though, he is taken away by police and is prosecuted for assault.''

Rodney Bordeaux, tribal council member and chairman of the education committee, said when children are harassed every day they get tired of it. They just want to go home to their families and be happy, and get up the next morning and go to school. If they can't, he said, it affects their education.

''We want our children to have the best education opportunities possible, but if public schools maintain a hostile environment, our children will only suffer,'' Bordeaux said.

Boarding schools in the state are an option for these students, but they are located hundreds of miles away from home. St. Francis School on the Rosebud Reservation arranged to send a bus to Winner to pick up the students and take them to school, but the students have to get up as early as 4 a.m.

The Todd County school system on the Rosebud Reservation is 90 percent American Indian and has a dormitory. Many students come from Winner to attend school at Todd County, but the dormitory is not large enough.

Cindy Young, director of education for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said the tribe is working toward increasing the dormitory space at Todd County as well as the number of buses to bring children to the Rosebud.

She said attempts to put an American Indian on the board of education have met with strong resistance. For any changes to occur, she said, there has to be community awareness. But, racial tensions have taken place for generations in the border towns in the Great Plains. Many adults remember the same treatment in Winner or other border town schools more then 30 years ago.

''The ACLU has received so many complaints over the years about mistreatment of Native American students in school districts across South Dakota that we see this as a problem that cannot be ignored.
''The government can no longer allow Native Americans to be treated as second-class citizens,'' Ring said.



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