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District 25, Justice Department confer on American Indian issues within schools

Jun 27, 2014 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Representatives from Fremont County School District 25 recently met with the U.S. Department of Justice to discuss and share information about American Indian students enrolled with the district.

Tribal leaders also joined in the meeting, during which district staff shared data comparing disciplinary issues among tribal and non-tribal students in Riverton schools.

"We want to make sure that our staff is giving every student equal opportunity and that they're dealing with actions," District 25 Superintendent Terry Snyder said. "We truly want to make every student successful."

He said the district also examined the potential for discrimination in schools based on characteristics like sexual orientation and weight.

"We have to make sure our kids are accepting of everyone (and) teach them to be respectful," he said.

Staff research showed that, in some areas, there were significant differences between tribal and non-tribal students at Riverton Middle School and Riverton High School. For example, data showed that attendance is a big problem with American Indian students, Snyder said. That fact was acknowledged by everyone in attendance at the DOJ meeting.

RMS had more discipline-type referrals involving non-tribal students, Snyder said, while at RHS, both groups had about the same number of referrals.

"That was a real reassuring thing, because there's a perception," he said. "I indicated that I need to go beyond the perception and look at the facts and data."

Snyder said staff targeted disruptive behavior, insubordination and use of profanity for issues in need of improvement.

Bullying surveys also showed that there were fewer conflicts involving non-tribal students after the Environmental Protection Agency's ruling on the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation.

"But that does not mean we do not have students in conflict -- we do," Snyder said. "We deal with those as they're reported and deal with them one issue at a time."

The EPA in December approved the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapahoe tribes' application for treatment in a similar manner to a state through the Clean Air Act. As part of the determination, the agency said a 1905 Act of Congress that opened certain lands, including the city of Riverton, to homesteading did not diminish the reservation. Some claim that the ruling has increased tension between local tribal and non-tribal populations.

The district expects to meet with the Northern Arapaho Business Council in the future per the tribe's request. Staff members in charge of disciplinary actions also are available to speak with tribal leaders wishing to learn more about issues related to American Indian students, Snyder said.