(Riverton, Wyo.) – A United States Department of Justice visit with Fremont County School District #25 officials earlier this month “went well” according to Superintendent Terry Snyder.
The meeting, held behind closed doors, involved Rose Salamanca, a conciliation specialist from the DOJ’s regional office in Denver, Tribal representatives and other Tribal members plus District #25 building administrators from the high school and middle school, the district’s Title VII representatives, school resource officers and Snyder attended.
“The issues brought up at the meeting concerned the fair and equal treatment of Native American students in the district,” Snyder said. “Salamanca talked about some perceptions in the community, and we discussed that such perceptions could be real, but are they backed up with facts?”
Snyder told the FCSD#25 Board of Trustees Tuesday night that he provided discipline data and bullying survey data at the meeting, “because I work from data and I wanted them to know what the facts are. And the facts were revealing in a couple of ways.”
There is a difference between Native and Non-native students if you include class attendance and tardiness, but if you take those out and look at behavior issues, there is no difference, he said.
“One of our concerns with Native students shows us that poverty issues and those kids on the free and reduced meal program have more absences than other students. But if you look at discipline issues, there are more non-native referrals than native behavioral issues at the middle school. At the high school, there are slightly more Native referrals, but really there is not a difference,” he said.
Snyder the data directs him to one conclusion. “Most of our students have some behavior issues. We try to respond to actions and behaviors and I’m pleased to see that the data indicates there is not a difference in how one race is dealt with than another race. If there is a perception that discipline issues are because of Native students, that is not true. It’s more of kids being kids,” he said. “Our obligation is to deal with the behaviors and the facts don’t seem to support other issues than kids having disruptive behaviors.”
Snyder did acknowledge that there are disruptions, insubordination and inappropriate language in use at the high school by Natives and Non-natives alike. “We can look at that and look at behaviors as a school improvement goal for next year. I think we can make progress with insubordination in the classroom, but frankly I have a problem with the use of profanity. It creates a problem when a conflict arises and profanity is used. It’ s a trigger for additional emotion to come up. Profanity has no place in school, in athletics, activities or anywhere by both staff and students. We have to conduct ourselves in a respectful manner.”
Snyder also noted that the district’s bullying survey revealed that Non-natives had more instances reported than Natives.
“When you get into discriminatory things, we have programs designed for all kids. It could be gender, sexual orientation, anorexia vs. overweight, rich vs. poor, scholars vs. athletes and so on. Every person is unique and has the right to be respected,” he said.
Snyder said that he is looking to set up a meeting with the Northern Arapaho Business Council as a next step. “I didn’t want to leave it at just one meeting. I want to know what we can do to change perceptions and to help kids.” He said he would meet with anybody, anywhere at anytime.
The superintendent said no individual students or staff members were discussed during the meeting.