POLACCA, ARIZ. — Hopi Jr/Sr High School (HJSHS) received pointers on how to improve its special education services during a special governing board meeting with Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) officials March 1 in the Hopi Jr/Sr High School Governing Board’s conference room.
Ivan Sidney, president of the Hopi Jr/Sr High School Governing Board, called the meeting constructive and called for follow-up work with the BIE officials.
Laurie Secakayva, interim special education director for HJSHS, said she appreciated the BIE officials coming to HJSHS.
“I welcome the feedback and support,” she said.
Charlotte Garcia, program administrator for Tribally Controlled Schools for the BIE, said stopping at HJSHS was part of a whirlwind trip with stops at several schools on the Hopi Reservation. She said the BIE officials randomly selected 15 of 117 special education files. She praised Secakayva for doing an excellent job and showing skill in management.
“We’re pleased with her files as opposed to the previous files (done by others),” she said.
Garcia said the special education files need to be setup in an organized way so they can be understood. She said files need to be accessible to parents or guardians who also need to be notified about the files. She said the Individual Education Plan (IEPs) meetings need to be attended by an administrator or his or her designee. She said this is important because funds may be needed whether it’s for hearing aids, assisted technology or glasses. She said only administrators usually know whether the funding is available. She said during some of the IEP meetings at HJSHS that administrators did not attend.
“We only did a random sample of the files, but we can do the full review in the future,” she said.
Garcia said Secakayva understands the process and makes corrections.
Sidney said he wants the BIE officials to come back for the full review as soon as possible.
“That only helps us,” he said. “We may find deficiencies, but that’s how we’ll find out how to do it correctly. This meeting has been constructive.”
Laura Tsosie, education specialist for school improvement with the BIE, said she worked with Secakayva when she was at Hopi Day School.
“Laurie did an excellent job then and she’ll do an excellent job here on how to give appropriate services to those with disabilities, according to the federal law,” she said.
Tsosie said some of the files they looked at did not have the proper documentation and some of the files were not completed in the 60 day deadline which is required by federal law. She said several of the IEPs were inappropriate because the parent didn’t sign it or information was missing. She said special education students need to have evaluations before they graduate so they know what they need for a post-secondary education. She said parents need to be given an appropriate time frame for attending IEP meetings.
Garcia said she will give Secakayva guidance on how to monitor the students and files.
Secakayva recently became interim special education director when the current director was placed on administrative leave. Sidney said the board was conducting the investigation into the administrator on leave. Sidney said the problem with the special education department goes back several years.
“It’s not right that the parents wrote to the school board and didn’t get a response,” Sidney said.
Sidney recently joined the school board.
“We want to make these corrections,” he said.
Sidney said the board is looking to a public relations firm for help with communicating with the public about the law regarding special education departments.
Sidney said the transparency begins here.
Hopi Vice Chairman Alfred Lomaquahu Jr. said when special education problems, or other problems, begin at the lower level that it ends up going to the high school level. He said the longer the problem goes on the harder it is to fix. He asked that the school board keep the Hopi Education Task team informed. Sidney agreed to do so.
Hopi Tribal Councilman Wallace Youvella Sr. said school boards throughout the country have special education problems on their shoulders because it is so heavily regulated.
“We need a monitoring system or we will always have these problems,” he said. “We need transparency. We can’t pretend that these things aren’t happening.”
Youvella said energy and motivation is needed to help the students succeed.
Jack Edmo, who trains school boards for the BIE, said he can provide training to the school board as well as parents and all stakeholders.
Secakayva said she is willing to work with the BIE and appreciates any support they give. Sidney said the board should hire temporary help to aid Secakayva so they can make all the files current.