Mashpee Indian Education Direction Unclear As Parents Voice Concerns

 At an emotional meeting of the Indian Education Parent Committee on Tuesday night, committee members and others raised a series of complaints ranging from lack of communication from the Mashpee School District’s main office to accusations of racism perpetuated by teachers and administrators.

The flood of grievances came during public comment period in a meeting that was originally planned for putting the final touches on the federal application for the approximately $56,000 federal grant.

Instead, the parent committee debated basic questions such as whether next year’s grant should cover programs for young elementary school children. The current grant covers grades 6 to 12, which has upset some parents.

Last week the parent committee sent the school district a letter announcing a “vote of no confidence” in the district’s ability to “understand, interpret and carry out the goals of the grant deliverables,” according to parent committee chairman Allyson L. Pocknett. Despite the vote, the committee said it will help draft the application that the school district will aim to submit before the May 4 deadline for the federal funding.

Because so many questions remained, Ms. Pocknett has arranged an additional meeting for the parent committee and any interested parents of native students, to be held on Tuesday at 6 PM, to discuss the contents of the federal grant application. The location had not been decided by press time.

A top concern highlighted by parents centers around a policy change in the use of the Indian education room. Beginning in September, students were no longer allowed to go to the Indian Ed room during the school day, a change made by Superintendent Ann M. Bradshaw.

“It’s a big difference having this room closed,” said parent Desire L. Moreno, who is not on the committee. “You don’t have teachers of color.” To have one room where there are native people is not asking too much, she said.

In January, the school district softened its stance and began to allow native students to visit the Indian Ed room during lunch, according to the coordinator of the Indian Ed program, Shani A. Turner.

The main target of the complaints were Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Deborah Goulart and School Committee Chairman Kathy G. Stanley. Both listened and offered responses to some of the questions.

Ms. Goulart explained that it was necessary to forbid going to the Indian Ed room during academic subjects because some students were using Indian Ed to get out of going to class.

Renee Lopes-Pocknett, education director of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council, gave a passionate speech detailing her frustrations over the last few months, at one point saying that her blood pressure was rising.

First, she said, the Indian Ed program should be offering more tutoring. To fill the need, she has enlisted the help of two academically successful grade 9 students, Lashelle M. Mathis and Kendall N. Scott, who offer tutoring most weekday afternoons.

“Tutoring is really needed and I am taking money out of my budget to provide it,” she said. “I can’t wait any longer.”

Ms. Lopes-Pocknett also complained about the hiring process in January for a part-time academic tutor. Despite repeated appeals to the Mashpee School Committee and to Ms. Goulart to increase communication with her, she was not informed of the job posting. Further, the Indian Ed parent committee is supposed to be involved in the process of hiring a worker, Ms. Lopes-Pocknett said.

Parent committee member Celina L. Gonzalez confirmed that the committee was not consulted in the hiring.

Another parent committee member, Morgan J. Peters I, said that he remains concerned with the rate of discipline problems reported by the school district. In January, Ms. Goulart prepared a report that said Native American students had an average of nine disciplinary actions per student while non-native students had an average of 1.45 per student.

“We have not made progress,” Mr. Peters said of his 19 years of experience with the school district. “There is considerable bias.”

Likewise, committee member Elizabeth Vieira said that the district must acknowledge that racism exists in the schools.

“We can’t deal with these teachers who have a negative attitude,” she said, adding that she believes harsher punishments are handed down to Native American children than to non-native children.

“I am so hurt,” said Joan Tavares-Avant, a former Indian Ed coordinator and longtime cultural program volunteer. “I have been around a few years,” she said, adding that she is 72. “To still hear that we have a high rate of suspension. We won’t need Indian Ed because we won’t have any Indian kids.”

Ms. Goulart said she found the parents’ reports of unequal disciplinary action against students “disturbing,” but she was not sure how to track it. Ms. Turner, the program coordinator, suggested that she review the reports collected by the school principals and cross-reference them with the list of Native American students.

Ms. Stanley, the school committee chairman, suggested that Native American children who fall behind academically or who are in crisis because of problems at home should not be the sole concern of the Indian Ed program.

“The system should take on some of this expense,” she said. “[We have] administrators, guidance counselors, and social workers. We have a crisis intervention team.”

Ms. Turner and another Indian Ed employee, Eleanor (Tootie) Jackson, raised questions about how the Indian Ed grant money is being used. Ms. Turner and Ms. Jackson said they can account for about $25,000 of the total $56,000 grant. After explaining some of the program’s expenses, they asked how the remaining $31,000 was being spent. For example, the budget includes $2,000 for a copier, but the Indian Ed room does not have a copier.

In the letter to the school district, the parent committee said it has not received sufficient answers on budget questions.

“The current budget and spending was misrepresented [or] misleading, even after we posed questions,” wrote Ms. Pocknett, the chairman, in an e-mail to the Enterprise.

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