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Superintendent responds to charges

Missoula County Public Schools superintendent Mary Vagner sat down with members of Indian Peoples Action (IPA) Tuesday to respond to recommendations the group drafted this June. In their report, IPA indicated a need for a variety of changes with respect to disciplinary policies, parental participation, curriculum and the recruitment of minority teachers.

Vagner and her administrative team agreed with some of IPA’s recommendations, outlined in a memorandum distributed at Tuesday’s meeting, such as establishing incident reports to document harassment.

IPA maintains that Indian students often experience harassment to the point where they physically retaliate, which then results in disciplinary action against them. Students then form the perception that school officials remain unsympathetic to allegations of discrimination.

However, another of IPA’s major concerns is the district’s policy, meant as punishment, of not allowing students on out-of-school suspension to make up missed assignments.

Robideau says some students see a few days without homework assignments as a vacation rather than a punishment, but the larger problem is how behind they are when they return to school. This, IPA says, directly contributes to the drop-out rate.

Vagner’s memo detailed how the school district is not prepared to make any changes in out-of-school suspension at this time, adding that it would require extensive study by a committee made up of staff members, administrators, students and parents.

“The tools available to staff and administration are very limited in terms of actual consequences,” the district’s memo reads, “and denial of credit for academic work while suspended does seem to have an impact on a student.”

The district also agreed to add the phrase “to understand and appreciate ethnic and cultural diversity” to its already existing eight “dimensions” to basic quality education. As far as recruiting minority teachers goes, administrators asked IPA to provide the personnel department with information regarding higher learning institutions “that prepare teachers of Indian origin,” though Robideau pointed out Native Americans aren’t the only minority IPA had in mind.

While IPA is pleased that some of their concerns have been addressed, overall they feel more can be done.

“It’s pretty loose,” IPA’s Nina Cramer says of the district administrator’s response as a whole. “We hoped for more concrete answers. They haven’t been very specific.”

Vagner’s response will be distributed to school board members, who will vote on it this Tuesday, Oct. 26.


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