An Indian Education parent committee met Friday with Salt Lake City School District officials in attempts to quell nearly a year of discord.
Meanwhile, the school district is looking to Washington, D.C., for a U.S. Department of Education Title IX specialist to attend further talks.The meeting follows a letter from the district's Parent Committee of the Title IX Indian Education Program, which says some information requests on the program have not been granted. The committee also is seeking the ouster of district multicultural director Janice Jones Schroeder, an American Indian, saying she has not responded to concerns.
The materials, delivered July 14 to the Salt Lake City Board of Education, states the advisory group will ask the U.S. Office of Indian Education to suspend all project money if their concerns are not addressed.
"I feel they just didn't take us seriously. They treated us like we didn't know what we were talking about," said parent committee chairwoman Tina Burson. "We got the feeling they're just trying to stall."
A prepared district statement, which Schroeder said she supports, said administrators and the school board are committed to ensuring all students receive needed educational services and are "confident that issues can be addressed with everyone, keeping students' needs as our focus." The district routinely does not comment on personnel issues.
"We're not exactly clear on what we did wrong that they're unhappy about, but we certainly want to meet the needs of all our students," school board president Karen Derrick told the Deseret News. "If both (sides') concerns are about American Indian students, we ought to be able to come up with some sort of understanding."
The committee's letter to the school board states the parent committee's purpose is "to work with school districts in the development and implementation of the Title IX Formula Grant project" designed to meet culturally related academic needs of students.
But it states that the committee has no access to the district, encountered personnel problems and no information on the program's accomplishments.
The letter also states the parent committee will tighten its operations and submit quarterly reports to the school board and district brass on the committee's plans and accomplishments this school year.
"We feel that by being more active, we will feel like we are a part of this society and the society of the Salt Lake School District."
Burson says she has received only four letters in the matter from the district since she became chairwoman last June.
"They're not satisfied with the response they've received from the district. They feel powerless, like there's no recourse," said Forrest Cuch, director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, who was to attend the Friday meeting. He also told the school board Tuesday that the longstanding issue needs to be resolved.
The district has met with the parent committee on several occasions since last winter, said former committee chairman Herb Begay, adding Robles "was very willing to work with the Title 9 program" and calling the situation "a big circus."
Last fall's acting chairwoman of the committee says she is disappointed with the committee's recent actions.
"Most of these parents signed a peition have never come to the meetings (when she was chairwoman) and they don't even know Janice (Schroeder)," said Lillia Mauricio, who stepped down after a brief stint as committee leader to devote more time to her studies at Weber State University.
"Janice is a very supportive person. She came in and always wanted to do everything positive for the Native American parents from my point of view. I know others will disagree with me, but they don't know her," Mauricio said.
Some three dozen parents petitioned the school board seeking to remove Schroeder. It is the committee's second protest of Schroeder's actions on Title IX and her management style, said Cuch, adding parents may have a cultural clash with Schroeder, whose Lumbee tribe is from the East Coast and not federally recognized.
Schroeder has served one year as multi-cultural director. The parent committee has had three leaders over the same time period.
Begay believes the parent committee, instead of making such demands, should ask legal counsel from both sides to interpret Title IX of the Civil Rights Act and list roles of the district and parents in Indian Education programs. Burson agrees that might help.
Title IX programs are directed by the district, which is accountable to the federal government. The district's 1997 annual financial report released last January raised no red flags on Title IX spending.
Meanwhile, President Clinton this month ordered his administration to improve education of American Indian children.