Parents, educators and tribal leaders from several Pueblos in New Mexico and the Navajo Nation gathered this week in Albuquerque to advocate for better public schooling. It’s been just over a year since a racist incident on Halloween in 2018, when students say their English teacher used a slur and cut a Native American students’ hair. Some say the district has not done enough to address the incident, and APS officials say there's a related lawsuit pending against the district. A few dozen community members attended a forum on Thursday, Nov. 14.
The APS Indian Education Department has gathered about a dozen stakeholders in response to last October’s incident at Cibola High School. The small committee of volunteers, which notably does not include any current or recent Cibola students, has met monthly since May.
According to minutes from a June committee meeting, Director of Indian Education Daisy Thompson "stated there is a pending lawsuit against APS regarding the incident at Cibola High School" and said "she believes that is what forced APS to take steps to make changes." Thompson told the stakeholders that their committee "needs to be the driving force for those changes."
On the committee is attorney Pablo Padilla Jr. from the Pueblo of Zuni. He has two kids in APS schools and his wife is a Zuni language teacher. At Thursday's forum, he said it feels like an important time for him to be involved, given last year’s landmark education ruling that told the state to put more money into teaching Indigenous students.
"I've been a lawyer long enough – 14 years – to know that a lot of times when governments move, they forget to ask the parents and the students what they really need," said Padilla. "I would hate for that to happen this year."
Padilla said APS should use statewide momentum from the Yazzie-Martinez case, like new leadership at PED and new funding from the legislature, to bring in new programs in the classroom.
The committee also includes a couple UNM professors, a councilor from the Pueblo of Zuni, a middle school principal, other parents, and a high school senior.
"I think the stakeholder committee is a great place to start," said PED Deputy Secretary Kara Bobroff, who was involved in comittee planning in the spring. She told KUNM she encourages APS decisionmakers to spend time in schools, "maybe working with kids on a daily basis as they're in their own environment, and understanding what that experience is like firsthand."
Bobroff also suggested APS partner with community organizations and the City of Albuquerque "really building up a strong network or some cohesion around the urban Native American population."
At Thursday's event, the district’s new Director of School Climate Layla Dehaiman agreed with an audience member that APS’ efforts to improve school climate should include hearing from youth representatives from every school in town.
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