Montana OPI monitoring federal discrimination complaint against Wolf Point schools

Posted at 9:14 PM, Jan 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-05 00:19:58-05

(HELENA) Leaders with the Montana Office of Public Instruction say they are not involved with a complaint alleging the Wolf Point School District has discriminated against Native American students, but that they are closely monitoring it.

It was announced Friday that the U.S. Department of Education will investigate a complaint filed on behalf of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes. It included dozens of accounts from Native students who claimed harassment by school officials, along with data charting trends of disparate treatment.

“Obviously, the allegations coming out of this complaint are troubling,” said Dylan Klapmeier, OPI’s director of communications and federal relations. “We want to ensure that all of our reservation schools and American Indian students are receiving the fair education that they deserve.”

Klapmeier said OPI has been working on issues with the Wolf Point School District for some time. Wolf Point Middle School is receiving targeted support for English-language learners, many of whom are Native American. The entire district is receiving comprehensive support to address low graduation rates. District administrators and OPI worked together on a new comprehensive plan they began implementing this school year.

“It takes a holistic approach at serving their students,” said Klapmeier. “It’s academics, it’s social-emotional learning, it’s culturally responsive practices, it’s all of those things that go into ensuring students are supported and can succeed academically.”

Klapmeier said OPI’s Indian Education Division is also working with the district on professional development in culturally responsive practices and on indigenous supports through the Montana Behavioral Initiative. They are also planning several Native youth conferences for the spring.

Klapmeier said OPI does not enforce federal laws like the Civil Rights Act, so they will not have a role in addressing the concerns raised in the federal complaint. But he said they are closely watching what happens.

“The outcome of this issue between the federal government and the Wolf Point School District will inevitably affect how students are served in that district, and how those educators teach students and mentor students,” he said.