Courtesy Ryan James White
Students and parents at Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School on the Leech Lake Reservation learn that they are going to get a high school to replace an industrial building converted to a school 30 years ago.

11 BIE Schools Win Replacement Lottery

Tanya H. Lee

The Bureau of Indian Affairs announced April 5 that 11 BIE schools are eligible for replacement, but the only one that can expect construction funding this year is the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe’s Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School, which will get $12 million in federal funds.

BIA Acting Secretary Lawrence Roberts told the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on April 6 that the other 10 schools would receive money for planning this year, but Congress has yet to approve construction funding for any of them.

The 10 schools on the 2016 priority list were selected by a committee established under the No Child Left Behind Act from among the 78 that were eligible to be considered for replacement. Of those, 53 submitted applications to the School Facilities & Construction Negotiated Rulemaking Committee. The Bureau of Indian Education funds 183 elementary and secondary day and boarding schools on 64 reservations.

To be selected, schools had to show that they were shovel-ready with land leases and permits, EPA clearances, geological and archaeological surveys, and architectural and engineering plans, among other documents, in place so they could begin construction within 18 months of receiving funding. Several schools had applied before and have had their documentation in place for 10 years and more.

The schools selected are in such deplorable condition, and have been for so long, that they should have been replaced decades ago. Building walls are cracked, indicating severe structural deficiencies, water and sewer systems have corroded pipes and constant leaks, heating systems are old, unreliable, and often have only one temperature setting, which can leave the children shivering or put them in an unhealthy environment with temperatures up to 100 degrees, asbestos is everywhere, windows are single pane and do not close properly, fire alarms and sprinklers, if they exist, do not work. Often the schools are in such bad shape that repairing them would cost more than replacing them. A few examples:

The T’iis Nazbas Community School in Teec Nos Pos, Arizona, was built in 1965 to accommodate 500 to 1,000 students. Today150 kindergarten through grade 8 students are enrolled; 68 live on campus. The school has experienced several fires and an explosion in the kitchen. The fire alarm and fire suppression equipment are inadequate and the fire truck was removed in 2014 because the garage is inadequate. There are insufficient security cameras and spotty ADA compliance.

The residential building needs a new HVAC system; sometimes the school has to send students home because there is no heat. Herman Farley, a school board member, explained why the residential program at T’iis Nazbas is so important, “A lot of our community members, students and grandkids, like to go to a bureau school because of the residential program the bureau holds. And with the home living setting back in their own home, they rather have the upbringing in the dormitory life that will give them determination of staff discipline and more of the disciplinary portion of growing up.”

The Gila River Indian Community’s Blackwater Community School has made AYP (a measure of academic achievement under NCLB) since 2002 despite being so overcrowded it needs an additional 31,407 square feet of space to get students out of the 10 portable classrooms where most of them are now taught. “If there is one child who needs services from the nurse’s office, the other students have to wait outside the building because there is hardly any space,” said Principal Jagdish Sharma, who presented at a committee hearing for the eligible schools in Albuquerque on February 2.

The school also lacks physical education facilities, a critical loss in a community with extremely high rates of diabetes and obesity. The children cannot play outside when during three months of the school year temperatures can exceed 105 degrees.

The Crystal Boarding School in the remote Chuska Mountains of New Mexico was built in 1935. The school serves 120 to 140 students in grades K-8. Severe overcrowding, a boiler that is beyond repair, lead pipes, asbestos and no preventive maintenance program because all of the available funds go for on-the-spot repairs are among its problems.

The residential program meets only half the needs in the area since one dormitory had to be shut down. “We have one room with bunk beds for all our kids in there, all in one room, the boys, and then the girls are in the other wing. There is no privacy. And the bathrooms are just as bad, in the showers there is no privacy at all,” Principal Alberto Castruita said. The residential program is critical because the school is located at 8,000 feet elevation. “We have three bus routes. One bus goes 90 miles round trip every day. Another one goes 80 miles, and then the one that goes the longest mileage is 110 miles because we have kids all the way up here in White Clay, and we have kids down here in Ft. Defiance, so we have to bus them all over the place,” said Castruita. When the temperature falls below 0, the diesel fuel in the buses starts to gel and the school has to close.

Another serious concern—and this was expressed by several presenters—is that school security is wholly inadequate for today’s conditions. This school is “wide open,” with no fencing and no surveillance cameras.


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