Hopi Jr./Sr. High School hires investigators to examine special education

Hopi Junior/Senior High School is located in Keams Canyon on the Hopi Reservation.

Hopi Jr./Sr. High School, one of the few high schools serving students on the Hopi Reservation in Northern Arizona, has hired investigators to examine its special education program, according to Bertha Parker, a public relations consultant representing the school.

In an email, Parker said the investigators are Joanne C. Phillips, the president of consulting company Arizona Education Cadre and attorney Gehl Tucker.

Parker said that much of the current administration is new and that “All are determined to provide the resources students and staff require to turn the education program into a successful program.”

Cronkite News has made inquiries into Hopi Jr./Sr. High School‘s special education program since January. School officials asked for several delays when reporters asked for interviews. Parker was hired in March.

During a school governing board meeting on April 12, one grandparent complained that his grandchild in the special education program did not receive services for four to five months during this school year, a violation of the child’s individualized education plan. That plan outlines the special services – such as counseling or having an aide in the classroom – that a student in a special education program should receive by law.

“This month, personnel have been identified to provide some of those services again,” the grandparent said. “Some of the services still haven’t been provided.”

The special education issues at Hopi are not extraordinary but emblematic of issues in schools across the state, Parker said in the email.

“Preliminary findings indicate that Hopi’s situation is not unsimilar to that of non-Indian public schools throughout Arizona,” she wrote.

The school was one of five Bureau of Indian Education schools in Arizona labeled as “needs assistance” in a 2014 level of determination report from that federal agency – three were on the Hopi Reservation.

There are around 50 BIE schools in the state. Hopi Jr./Sr. High School is a grant school through the BIE, which means that the schools are controlled by tribes, according to Alexis DeLaCruz, an attorney with the Native American Disability Law Center.

Hopi High became a grant school around 2010, according to an article from the Navajo-Hopi Observer. More schools previously operated by the BIE are moving toward being tribally controlled, DeLaCruz said. She thinks this change may have lead to less support from that federal agency in special education.

“There’s really no framework or system in place for the BIE to ensure that students with disabilities are receiving appropriate services,” she said.

Myles Beam, a teacher in his eighth year at the school, was recently placed on administrative leave and said the school’s issues go beyond special education.

“Hopi High School is distressed,” he said.

Beam provided a letter in which interim superintendent Alban Naha wrote that the decision to put the teacher on leave stemmed from “unprofessional conduct” and “insubordination.” He believes the decision had to do with a radio program he was involved with at the school and alleged censorship of that program.

In an email, Parker wrote of the administration’s decision to put Beam on leave, “There must have been a valid reason. What is it? I don’t know.” She added that it is an ongoing personnel matter that cannot be discussed.

The teacher said the school has been continually plagued by “mismanagement.”

During the first two weeks of classes this fall, the school was so short-staffed on teachers, Beam said, that on several occasions two classrooms next to his were not open in the mornings. This left around 30 students milling throughout the hallways during the early periods of the day, he said.

“The doors are locked, the kids can’t get into those classrooms and we’re already in instruction time,” he said.

He worries that administrators stay “locked in their offices” and rarely monitor what’s happening in the hallways.

Other parents, students and alumni who spoke in the April 12 meeting said that administrators failed to communicate with parents and that substitute teachers were teaching in the same classroom all year-round.

Constant administrative turnover has also marked the past several school years, according to Beam. At the start of this school year, he said much of the administration was new.

Beam has two sons who attended Hopi Jr./Sr. High School for the first time this year after primarily being homeschooled. His son in seventh grade was used to advanced level work when he started at the school but had a difficult time finding challenging courses. When Beam complained that his son was doing remedial math work, he said the administration failed to provide a more rigorous option.

Beam’s son also had very few options for elective courses. One, a course designed to help students with the transition from sixth to seventh grade, was simply 70 minutes of free time, according to Beam.

He and his wife pulled their older son out of the school in February and placed him back in homeschool.

“You realize that obviously the rigor is far from what it should be,” Beam said.

School officials are working to make schoolwork more challenging, according to Parker.

“This new administration and Governing Board is insisting not only on ‘rigor’ but qualitative lesson plans that include ‘rigor’, unit plans, assessments, student reviews, peer reviews, administrative reviews, and accountability,” she wrote in an email.

Special education at the school is also “a near travesty,” Beam said. He said he was rarely asked to create goals for individualized education plans, though he noted that several aides were incredibly helpful to students. In the last year, he said, officials made a push for full inclusion of special education students.

“How can we do full inclusion when we’re not doing anything well to begin with?” he asked.

Beam said he is still dedicated to his students and he believes there are many hard-working employees at the school. But he also wonders if those at the school are sugarcoating its problems.

“Most high schools don’t have these kinds of problems to the extent that we do,” he said.

Parker did not provide a timeline for the investigation. However, she added that administrators, a team of teachers, the school’s governing board and others are working on a school improvement plan for next year. That plan is due at the end of May.