Lawsuit seeks education reform at Native American schools

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A lawsuit that accuses the federal government of failing to adequately provide for students on a small, isolated reservation in Arizona is set to go to trial in November.

The lawsuit filed in 2017 seeks systematic reforms of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education, an agency that oversees more than 180 schools in nearly two dozen states but directly operates less than one-third of them.

Only two of the initial six claims remain in the lawsuit. U.S. District Judge Steven Logan in Phoenix already ruled that the bureau violated its duty to ensure students with disabilities have access to resources such as special education, therapists and mental health services. He will consider the remedy in a seven-day bench trial scheduled to start Nov. 10.

The case centers on Havasupai Elementary School deep in a gorge off the Grand Canyon. It is one of the most remote schools in the continental U.S. and among the lowest performing among the bureau-run schools.

The Havasupai reservation, known for its towering blue-green waterfalls, is accessible only by foot, mule or helicopter. Children often are sent to boarding school or off the reservation for high school because they have no option to finish school at home.

At a hearing Thursday, Logan declined to exclude certain expert testimony and allowed evidence regarding previous students to be presented at trial. Attempts to settle the case weren’t successful.

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