- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 28, 2017

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The Fort Peck tribes filed a complaint Wednesday against a Montana school district alleging pervasive discrimination against Native American students in violation of federal law.

The complaint against Wolf Point School District in northeastern Montana claims tribal students do not have equal access to education and extra-curricular activities.

It says some are treated so badly by fellow students, teachers and administrators that they quit sports teams, drop out or transfer to other schools farther away, and in some cases contemplate, attempt or complete suicide.

“There is substantial evidence that the Wolf Point School District violates federal standards for equal education,” said attorney Melina Healey with Equal Justice Works, who is representing the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

She accused the district of racially biased enforcement of school discipline policies, inequitable access to school activities and verbal abuse by teachers and staff.

The tribes want the federal Education and Justice departments to investigate.

The district was still reviewing the complaint Wednesday, officials said.

Attorney Jeffrey Weldon, who represents the district, said it is aware of the challenges facing students, particularly Native Americans.

“We recognize our students’ rights under Montana law and federal law to equal educational opportunity,” he said. “We take claims of discrimination seriously and will cooperate with the federal agencies completely and promptly.”

The complaint alleges the school board, administration and teachers are nearly all white, the school fails to train the staff in Native culture and to address self-harm and suicide among Native students.

“The district has a financial incentive to retain Native students just until the fall semester ‘head count’ date,” and then push them out, according to the complaint that is supported by the America Civil Liberties Union of Montana.

The tribes allege the school does not encourage Native students to take advanced classes or graduate with the math or foreign language requirements needed to apply for college.

During the 2012-13 school year, only 11 percent of Native American students were proficient in math while only 6 percent were proficient in science, the complaint said.

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