Hopi Jr. /Sr. High School Governing Board reviews special education complaints

POLACCA, Ariz. - The Hopi Jr./Sr. High School Governing Board instructed interim Superintendent Charles Gover to look into complaints against their special education department during the Feb. 9 monthly board meeting.

The board gave Gover the direction with Vice President Valerie Kooyaquaptewa and new members Ivan Sidney and Romalita Laban agreeing that the matter should be looked into.

Board President Edgar Shupla and Steven Bahnimptewa were absent. There were several ceremonies going on in the villages.

One complaint centered on a special education staff member who said they were supposed to get a stipend for a certain amount and instead received a lesser amount.

The second complaint centered on special education students who were mainstreamed into classrooms. Teachers were neither informed that the students who were entering their classrooms were special education nor were they given individual education plans or told what accommodations these students needed.

Melissa Gaseoma, a special education staff member at Hopi Jr./Sr. High School, said the previous superintendent and the director of special education approved stipends for 50 minutes of work each school day, but instead their stipends were for 30 minutes of work each school day.

"My question is: 'Who has the authority to change that?'" she asked.

Gaseoma said the special education workers give up their lunch hour.

"No one sees what we do. We stand out in the cold and the snow waiting for their busses. We go above and beyond. Something needs to be set in stone about how much we should be paid," she said.

Kooyaquaptewa thanked Gaseoma for bringing the issue to the board. Laban said it was important to give Gaseoma a response. Sidney said for too long the public lacked communication from the board.

"We need to begin to answer whether we agree or not," he said.

Laban said it was important that all policies be followed. The board then directed Gover to look into the matter and report back to them.

Laverne Lomakema, a math teacher at Hopi High School, said she was glad to hear that the board was listening and giving a response.

"I would have liked that last semester," she said.

Lomakema said she has been trying to meet with Special Education Director Kym Dashee for the past 10 days without success. Lomakema said there is a lack of communication between special education and teachers. She said no one told her that students with special education disabilities would be entering her classroom.

Lomakema said there was no contact about these children, including from the caseworkers. She said a lot of the special education students are failing her class.

"These students have severe disabilities," she said. "I need guidance on how to identify, measure and document (the work of these students) in IEPs."

Lomakema said the IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) call for the students to be in Response to Intervention (RTI) classes, but Hopi High School no longer offers these RTI classes. She said the special education students were not supplied with either calculators or tablets as they should be.

Lomakema said these math classes are supposed to be small, but are now up to 25-30 students. She said if special education students were going to be mainstreamed that it should have been at the beginning of the school year, not in the middle.

"We're supposed to meet annual goals. How can we meet annual goals?" she asked.

Sidney responded that the school board needs to get the facts regarding the special education department. He said these reports are alarming. He said the question is how to address the problem and take care of it because other schools have been sued for similar issues. He said the Hopi Tribal Council is also aware of the problems with the special education department.

Kooyaquaptewa said she is concerned about reports that IEPs are not updated.

"I would recommend a meeting just on this," she said.

Charlene Clark, a former teacher at Hopi Junior High School, thanked Lomakema for her comments because she said there has been a disconnect between teachers and support staff at the school.

"Where is the accountability?" she asked. "If we want to be better we need to address it, but we can't if it's not out there."

Scott Means, a parent, spoke about the school's cheerleading coach who he heard was resigning. He praised the cheerleading coach. He said the cheerleading coach transformed his daughter from a sad to a happy person.

"I urge the powers that be to get her to stay. I appreciate her presence," he said.

Kooyaquaptewa said it was good to hear something positive.

"You can see at the games that the cheerleaders are enjoying themselves," she said.

Laban and Sidney praised Means for speaking out on behalf of the teacher.

On another issue, Dr. Noreen Sakiestewa, director of the Hopi Tribe's Department of Education, said there are grant funds available for revising Ordinance 36 and conducting a survey about what's working at schools and the challenges that need to be confronted.

"We want to design a good system for our children," she said. "Develop your priorities, something you would like to improve. If there's something you would like to showcase then give us a timeline and an action plan."

The board also discussed how to go about hiring a superintendent since Dr. Gregory Sackos resigned in December. Gover is serving as interim superintendent until the permanent superintendent is hired.

Sidney said the board is fully qualified to review the applicants, select who should be interviewed and make a decision. The board agreed they want to make a decision as soon as possible, but they want all board members present if possible.

Gover, who was serving as high school principal, and Hopi Junior High Principal Fernando Madrid are among the applicants for superintendent. Laban said she wants to make sure that all applicants are treated fairly regardless of whether they work for the school or not.

"I want employees to know that we supply everybody with a fair setting," she said.

Sidney made the motion that the board establish itself as a committee to review applications and make a selection and if possible to accommodate all board members to attend the interviews to be set during business hours. The board unanimously passed resolution.

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