POLACCA, Ariz. — About 40 students, parents and teachers attended an emotional school board meeting April 12 at Hopi Jr./Sr. High School to lodge complaints about issues going on at the school.
Parents and students spilled into the hallway from the administrative room where the board meeting was held because there was not enough space in the room.
The majority of complaints from community members concerned the cancellation of a school trip that students were supposed to attend and the trip’s sponsor (an English teacher at the school) was placed on adminstrative leave without notifying parents, many of whom heard the news from their students.
Ivan Sidney, the school’s governing board president, said that personnel matters pertaining to any staff member could not be discussed at the meeting until the matter was officially brought to the board in an appeal by the staff member in question.
“We cannot talk about it,” Sidney said. “He has rights. We want to protect his rights, as well as the board’s.”
Nevertheless, the majority of the school board agreed to allow teachers, students and parents to speak as long as the administrative action against the teacher was not mentioned.
Many students spoke about the cancellation of a trip to Washington D.C. for a Close Up program. Close Up’s high school programs are designed to give students and educators an inside look at their democracy in action, according to its website.
The students said they had done extensive research with their English teacher to prepare for the trip and were upset the trip was cancelled and that their sponsor was placed on administrative leave.
One teacher said there were four issues he wanted to bring up with the board: services for special education students, change of his grandchild’s English class with only five weeks remaining in the semester, lack of communication from the school administration and censorship regarding freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
“I have a grandchild who didn’t get services for four to five months out of this school year for one reason or another,” said Bob Rhodes, who has lived in Hotevilla for 46 years, adding that some of those services had been addressed but others had not. “There are some serious issues in special education that need not only administrative attention but the board’s attention.”
A parent, Barb Johnson, said she came to speak at the board meeting because of the disruptive nature of her children’s classroom because of the absent teacher (the teacher placed on administrative leave). She said students are having to adjust to a whole new curriculum where they had been on a schedule with their previous teacher.
“Not only that, but administration did not let the parents know,” Johnson said. “We were not notified at all.”
She said she believes there are teachers at the school who want to provide the education the students need, but when it comes to personnel issues, or anything that involves the administration, parents are not being notified.
“Just like today. I tried to call the school. I tried to call the school to get some information…,” Johnson said. “I can’t even talk to anybody. I have to call and call and call, consistently. I have to leave messages. Me, as a parent, I am here with my daughter, because we feel the situation that has been going on, it hasn’t been clarified with us parents. We don’t know really what’s going on. Who do we talk to?”
Other parents echoed those comments expressing support for their children who wanted to speak at the meeting. Students expressed their frustration at their teacher being put on leave, their support for him and the cancellation of the Close Up trip.
One student said she has struggled with different issues and the trip was a way for her to focus her attention on something positive and that she had worked hard for the opportunity to go on the Close Up trip. She also said not many kids on the reservation would ever get an opportunity to go to Washington D.C.
“When I first heard of our trip being cancelled, it honestly felt like a slap to my face,” she said. “I started to feel that negativity that I had thought was gone entirely a couple months before slowly taking over. I’m trying hard to understand why it was being cancelled.”
Another student said the teacher who was placed on leave talks to students each and every day about their lives, what is going on, how their assignments are and how their families are. She said that he has given students many opportunities to improve their learning by talking about politics and watching the news. She said she was speaking for all the students who couldn’t make it to the meeting that night.
“This is the reservation,” she said. “This is not a city. We are more connected, not through social media, but through coming to school every day. [The teacher] pulls us together. If you would ask some of the students, they are inspired by [the teacher], by his teaching to actually go to college and to put up with life…”
Sidney said that the people’s attendance was important. A press release from the school quoted Superintendent Alban Naha as saying that “the administration is currently working to make this trip happen and we will have something to present at next Wednesday’s (April 19) board meeting.”
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