SHIPROCK — A woman who barricaded herself in her office and was forcibly removed by police while trying to avoid being served termination papers is seeking retribution from Shiprock Associated Schools Inc.

Former executive director Bernadette Todacheene filed a lawsuit against the schools, citing unlawful termination following a Nov. 5, 2009, incident. She is accused of locking herself and a child in her office to keep the board from delivering a termination notice.

She did not exit the campus until she was escorted off by Navajo Nation police, the incident report states.

"It took four hours to get her out," said Elisieta Johnhat, who sat on the board at the time Todacheene was fired. "We knocked on the door and she didn't open it. We called the Navajo police, and they knocked on the door. Finally security had to cut the doorknob off."

The board fired Todacheene for negligence and abuse of established policies, failure to uphold supervisory conduct standards, failure to work with the school board and gross insubordination, according to the termination notice.

The five-member governing board met Thursday in a special meeting called to discuss hiring for positions unrelated to the pending litigation.

Community members and the president of the school's Parent Advisory Council attended the morning meeting because of suspicions that the board would approve a settlement in the case.

Advisory council president Lander Morris asked the board to refrain from settling, and to bring the matter before parents prior to making a decision.


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He also questioned board members about where the settlement money would come from.

"I would not like that the funding comes from any of the money set aside for kids," Morris said. "It would be wrong to take money from the kids."

The board has considered a settlement of $109,000, board member Gervana Begaye-Johns said. Because the issue is under litigation, the board did not discuss it in open session.

The board addressed rumors of the proposed settlement, spurred on by questioning from Begaye-Johns, who said at least two board members were served subpoenas to appear at a Monday deposition.

"Give us an update," she demanded of the board and Executive Director Leo Johnson. "We want feedback on the settlement."

Board Vice President Dorothy Begaye called the proposed settlement a rumor and urged people to check their facts before assuming the board was taking action.

"I don't know where you're getting your facts," she said.

"There is no settlement happening today, or not right away. We don't have legal representation right now, and we don't make a decision as a board."

Following a 3-2 vote during the meeting, however, the board amended its legal contract to continue working with a law firm that has served the schools in the past.

The board chose to go with the firm to save time, rather than seeking proposals for a new firm.

"We have to deal with litigation tomorrow," Johnson said. "The board right now has no legal counsel. From here on, we need some legal advice on some matters."

The firm charges between $175 and $200 per hour, Johnson said.

Legal advice likely will focus on the original contract with Todacheene, Johnson said. The board may be outside its legal bounds if it grants a severance package to Todacheene if her original contract states otherwise.

"In essence, it is a federal ... audit violation to knowingly extend federal funds outside its authorized use," Joel Longie, education line officer for the Northern Navajo Agency, said of severance pay. "In a nutshell, you can pay severance to employees if it's part of your school policy to do so, if it's part of your contract language to do so. If it's not, it's really an unallowable cost. It will be caught in your audit at the end of the year. So in essence, if you give the employee a severance, you still have to pay the federal government back for that severance pay."

Longie, who oversees all the Bureau of Indian Education schools in the Northern Navajo Agency, said he was visiting the school board Thursday on unrelated

business.

Alysa Landry:

alandry@daily-times.com