The commission, formed as a government entity and subsidiary of the tribe's legislative branch to oversee race relations in and around the Nation, began an investigation in December to look into allegations of racism regarding the split.
The investigation came at the request of Jonathan Hale, chairman of the Health, Education and Human Services Committee, who asked that the actions of the Kirtland community group Children First be studied. Children First formed in May 2011 in response to a change in administration at the district and governing board actions the group found questionable.
The group gathered signatures of support from 60 percent of registered voters in the proposed new district, then sent a petition to the state Public Education Department. The PED then held a quasi-judicial hearing May 16 to hear arguments for and against the split.
The Human Rights Commission, in a resolution released to the media Friday, found that a split would not be in the best interest of the Navajo children, and that the proposal is motivated by race. Based on the atmosphere at the May 16 hearing, the commission found that "the issue is racially polarized. Navajos are against the split and non-Native Americans are for the split."
State education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera is expected to make a decision regarding the
If she decides in favor of a split, a separate district would be created in the Kirtland area of the district. If she opposes the split, the 3,000-square-mile district will stay intact.
The Human Rights Commission believes that a split would be a violation of American Indian rights.
Children First proposed two plans in a detailed report to the PED: one called for a split along the reservation line and the other included a portion of Navajo land in the Ojo Amarillo area. The commission found a split along the reservation line would "dilute Navajo voting strength." A split including Ojo Amarillo, on the other hand, would require the consent of the Navajo Nation because of principles of self-determination and sovereignty laid out by the U.N. Declaration on Rights for Indigenous Peoples."The Navajo people have the right, without discrimination, to improve on their economic and social conditions, and the education systems that serve their Navajo children," the resolution states. "Where the rights of the Navajo citizens and children will be impacted, such as splitting a school district where (the) majority of citizens in such school district (are) Navajo, the state education department must seek and secure the consent of the Navajo Nation to ensure the best interests of the Navajo children are protected."
The district serves more than 6,000 students, 90 percent of whom are Navajo.
Children First claims it is looking out for the best interest of all students. During the May 16 hearing, proponents of the split cited a desire to raise learning standards at Kirtland schools while welcoming students from the entire area to enroll.
The Kirtland group also claims the impetus behind proposing the split was more local control on the school board and parent involvement.
Opponents of the split — district administrators and the majority of the governing board — claim the number of people who actually support the split is much lower and that Children First, the group soliciting signatures, coerced or threatened voters into signing.
The methods, however, are in the past, Skandera said during the hearing. The purpose of the petition was simply to show enough support of a split. The ultimate decision lies with the state.
Skandera, in her decision, must conclude whether splitting the district is in the best interest of students in both districts and of public education in the state as a whole.