By the CUJ
MISSION – Modesta Minthorn, the CTUIR’s Director of Education, explained the difficulties facing tribal families with distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic to the Board of Trustees Nov. 25.
But a bright spot has been the Tribe’s After School Program for students of all grade levels. Three cohorts of 10 students are allowed to participate from the elementary, middle and high school levels. A bus picks them up, they stay and do distance learning for two hours, and then a bus drops them off.
“The first couple weeks our attendance, our numbers were a little low,” Minthorn said. “But they started to pick up as more students were being referred to our program. It’s worked out pretty well so far.”
BOT Chair Kat Brigham asked about referrals for truancy of tribal students in the Pendleton School District. Attendance, in general, was a topic of interest among the board.
The issue, Minthorn said, is that a threshold on truancies has yet to be set.
BOT member Jill-Marie Gavin asked for data on students who were inactive in class for more than five days.
“That’s not a threshold that’s been set,” Minthorn said.
“How long will school districts take to set thresholds?” Gavin followed
“They’re pretty wishy-washy,” Minthorn said. “I’ve not heard a solid percentage or threshold.”
“Our kids are unique in dealing with truancy,” Gavin said. “Our barriers are larger. It is important to set that threshold early. We’re halfway through the school year and don’t know where things are going to go.”
BOT member Corrine Sams brought forth a concern about mental health and financial struggles.
“Are your Title VI workers able to send referrals for any economic or social adversities our students are having?” she said. “Mental health, financial struggles have been a burden to our students and causing issues. Are you working with Yellowhawk (Tribal Health Center) at all for supports on the Reservation?”
“That’s a huge issue,” Minthorn said. “I know at least five referrals Title VI has done for mental health. There’s a process to get those referrals out. We’re trying to work with Yellowhawk but our interaction is limited because of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).”
“I think it would be awesome if there was more support for students,” she added. “It’s just a very weird time for everyone. The academic support (and mental health support), they’re two very different things.”
Sams, who noted the Education Department was allocated $100,000 early on in the pandemic, said the goal of having extra supports would be to reduce pressure on Tribal families.
“If not, we’re going to have a huge issue when it comes to households that are going to be non-compliant with the threshold that hasn’t been set yet,” she said. “So I just caution there that I hope that it’s not punitive and I hope we can come up with more solutions.”
BOT Secretary Sally Kosey expressed disappointment in the Pendleton School District. She stated as long as students log in, they are counted as having attended school, regardless of the amount of time they spent in class that day.
“I know it’s a money issue and then they can count them as attending and get money for them,” she said. “(Students) aren’t learning. They’re not getting anything. I’m just appalled that that’s all they’re doing. For me, they’re not doing their part.”
Linda Sampson, of the Afterschool Education Program, spoke to the successes of the program.
“Don’t get discouraged,” she said. “I see a lot of negative responses about the school district. I’m glad to tell you kids that are in our program are actually all passing. It sounds like doomsday, or the end of the world, but if we keep working harder, we keep brainstorming…”
“There’s so many complexities,” Sampson added. “Try not to give up.”