The ban specifically prohibits classes that promote the overthrow of the U.S. government or resentment toward a race or class of people, along with those designed for students of a specific ethnic group or to advocate ethnic solidarity. Since it went into effect on January 1, 2011, Debora Norris, Navajo, director of the Arizona Department of Education’s (ADE) Office of Indian Education, has received a lot of calls, letters and e-mails from concerned Native parents. In fact, there was so much of an outcry that her office had to issue a statement, reminding the public that the statute exempts classes for Native students that are required to comply with federal law or courses that cover the history of an ethnic group—as long as the classes are open to all students and do not incite a rebellion against the federal government or hatred toward races or classes of people.
When asked if American Indian parents should be worried, Norris did not give a yes-or-no answer. Instead, she says, “I hope people understand there is not supposed to be a connection between this bill and Indian education history courses. There is also an incredible amount of support in state law for Native American history.” These laws and institutions, she notes, include the Arizona Indian Education Act of 2006, which, among other things, established the Indian Education Office within the ADE, and an Indian Education Advisory Council; and a law that requires school boards to “incorporate instruction on Native American history into appropriate existing curricula”; and a policy adopted by the ADE in 1986 requiring Indian content in instruction in every school district. Norris conceded that she does not know how many Arizona schools are in compliance with those laws.
About 65,000 out of more than 1 million students enrolled in Arizona public schools are Native. There are more than 2,200 public schools spread across 225 districts, and, Norris added, more than 100 of these schools are all-Indian, or campuses located on tribal lands, administered by boards totally (or near totally) made up of Native members elected by their tribal communities. “In general, the reservation-based districts are the districts where you will see the best examples of Native American content,” she says. “They have more of a presence of tribal leadership and elders in the classroom—there is just more content available.” It is safe to assume that these schools have not had to make any changes to comply with the new law.
What about off-reservation schools? A large number of Indian students attend schools in urban districts, such as Flagstaff Unified, Maricopa Unified and Phoenix Unified. Many of them have Indian education programs, mostly funded by federal dollars (Title VII Indian Education Formula Grant and Johnson O’Malley), and offer culturally relevant courses and activities for Native students. We checked with a couple to see how the ban has affected their Native programs.
Flagstaff Unified School District appears to have gotten through the ban unscathed. Out of a student population of around 9,700 students spread across 19 elementary, middle and high schools, 2,700 are Native American, mainly Navajo. The district has an Indian Education Support Program (IESP) and offers culturally relevant courses. The IESP, which receives Johnson O’Malley and Indian Education Formula Grant funding, has Native American staff members in each of the schools to provide academic assistance to students. They also monitor students’ progress and work with parents on issues related to attendance and academic performance. “Native American academic advisors not only provide that connection to the home and family, but also serve as that connection between [the student] and the school and the teachers,” says Elaine Kasch, Navajo, the program’s supervisor.