Todd County School District Needs New Leadership

 

February 27, 2018

 

Vi Waln

Students currently attending He Dog school in rural Parmelee, SD have been studying for over a year in an unsafe building. Parents were made aware of this issue only by reading an article recently published in the Argus Leader. Since the release of that skewed news report, parents worked hard to have their students moved from the unsafe building.

Several parents and grandparents attended the Todd County School District Board of Education meeting on February 12. They were allowed to voice their concerns, but didn’t receive definite answers to their many questions. Some parents chose to keep their student(s) out of school until the issue of an unsafe building was resolved. Other parents were accused of being “poisonous” by a school board member.

One public response from a school board member attempted to deflect responsibility away from the school district by stating it was the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ (BIA) responsibility to maintain the building since they own it. In reality, it was the administration’s decision to put students back into the unsafe building, as they’ve leased it from the BIA for decades.

Consequently, the BIA issued a report with an “inspection created” date of 11/01/2016 and a “finalized date” of 05/22/2017 outlining a number of safety issues on the He Dog campus. The report addressed He Dog’s bus garage, main building and pump house. An excerpt from the 7-page report states “Main School Building. Two level building. Has fire alarm system. No sprinkler system. Due to age and condition, recommend the building be condemned and demolished.”

Administrators should have allowed the students at He Dog to remain in the modular classrooms they occupied outside of the main building. For example, my Takoja was in 3rd grade last year at He Dog school. When the school year started in August 2016, his classroom was located in a modular building on the south side of He Dog’s campus.

One day my Takoja came home and said his class had been moved into a room in the basement of the main building. It seemed odd to me but I generally don’t give a second thought to the decisions made by the administrators. I figure they are highly educated and paid decent salaries to ensure our children are in an environment where they can learn without their family worrying about their safety. I was wrong.

There were days when my Takoja came home and said his classroom was flooding. Other days he didn’t have school at all because of the flooding in the basement. It really didn’t make sense to me for the students to be in the main building if administrators had to cancel school due to safety issues caused by regular flooding in basement classrooms.

At the February 12 meeting, I was frustrated that the school board attempted to place blame on the BIA for an unsafe building. In reality, they already knew the BIA’s recommendation about the building based on the 2016 inspection report. The report is posted at He Dog school for the public to see. Many of us believe the students should have never been put back into the main building. But again, that’s an administrator decision.

As I sat there listening to the board go back and forth with the parents who were seeking answers, it occurred to me that the students were moved into the main building after the current superintendent was hired. Thus, the students were moved with her approval.

I asked the board to please hold someone accountable. I believe the superintendent is the person with final decision-making authority. So, I also asked the school board to remove the superintendent immediately. The superintendent should be accountable to the parents and community for allowing students to be housed in an unsafe building for so long. Let’s hope none of our students suffer from any health problems caused by being in an unsafe building!

Again, parents didn’t get their questions answered at the school board meeting. The school district does submit press releases to a local newspaper. However, I believe the written account released in the newspaper containing the February 12 meeting discussion will be censored by the superintendent, who has the final say over everything at the Todd County School District. Let’s hope the official meeting minutes accurately reflect what was said!

Again, if you’d like to hear what was actually said at the February 12 school board meeting, you can view the YouTube video.

Most of the He Dog students were moved out of the main building last week. Remember, it was the school district’s choice to put students back in that building. Please remember that the BIA has no say about who is in that building, which they recommended be “condemned and demolished.” As parents and grandparents, we still want someone be to held accountable for committing a criminal act by putting elementary students in an unsafe environment.

Many parents, grandparents, staff and community members are anxious for new leadership at the Todd County School District. July 1 is the beginning of a new contract year. A lot could happen between now and then. Our students and staff will continue to suffer for 4 long months under the current leadership. I encourage you to talk to school board members and request they immediately hire a superintendent who will ensure our students are in a safe environment while they are at school.

 

 

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