School closure depriving Native American students of education; Bureau of Indian Education fails to issue guidance to schools

(Photo: Native American Disability Law Center)

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Advocates demand action

News Release

Native American Disability Law Center 

The Native American Disability Law Center is asking Tony Dearman, the Director of the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), to issue guidance to Bureau of Indian Education schools to ensure that Native American students, particularly those with disabilities, have access to continuing education, including special education and related services. The Bureau of Indian Education acts as the State Educational Agency (SEA) to 183 schools across the United States. Despite the closure of many of its schools through the remaining 2019-2020 school year, the Bureau of Indian Education has yet to issue any guidance to its schools on how to continue serving Native American students. This failure will deprive thousands of Native American students of valuable educational time and cause irreparable harm to students with disabilities who rely on school-based services to meet their needs. 

Since school closures became necessary due to the COVID-19 pandemic, State Educational Agencies across the country have directed local school districts to develop learning plans so that students can continue to access educational services. Guidance has also been issued by both the Department of Education and State Educational Agencies concerning the need to continue implementing Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The Law Center has made multiple requests to representatives of the Bureau of Indian Education urging them to take action and issue guidance to their schools. Despite assurances that the Bureau of Indian Education is working on guidance, none has been issued to date and Native American students are left with uncertainty as to whether they will receive any education services until schools reopen. 

Additionally, the Bureau of Indian Education, through the Secretary of the Interior, will receive over $153 million dollars under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to support its schools. The Law Center demands the Bureau of Indian Education make its plans for distribution of this funding stream publicly available and further requests the Bureau of Indian Education focus on spending this money to support the specific and current needs of Native American students, such as a lack of access to computers and Internet.

Therese Yanan, the Law Center’s Executive Director, stated, “Native American students at Bureau of Indian Education schools historically perform at lower achievement levels than their peers. The Bureau of Indian Education’s failure to provide direction to its schools will only widen this unacceptable achievement gap. Further, students with disabilities often rely on schools for nursing services, physical and occupational therapy, social emotional learning, and mental health therapy. Without these services, students with disabilities are at a high risk of significant regression and decompensation. The Bureau of Indian Education must address this situation immediately.” 

This request for guidance is supported by Disability Rights and Civil Rights Advocates across the country with an interest in supporting the rights of Native American students.

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