The school year at Dzilth-na-o-dith-hle Community School ended on a sour note Thursday with parents and former employees protesting the administration and its policies.
Critics of the grant school claim administrators operate in secret and policies are unfair. Administrators argue the protesters are acting on inaccurate information and their opinions are not representative of the majority of the staff and parents.
Thursday's protest was the second in the final week of school, and Navajo Nation police were on site to keep protesters outside the fence. The first protest, held on school grounds last Friday, ended with children and staff members in tears, Principal Rose Woody said.
"Last week they scared our kids and our staff," she said. "They were yelling at us and were very intimidating."
Administrators demanded protesters stay outside the school compound, but their shouts still could be heard at the school. The group of parents, former employees and former students marched near the entrance of the compound, carrying posters and shouting for the immediate resignation of Woody and Finance Director Faye BlueEyes.
"It's disrupting our school," Woody said. "It's hard to keep things in order now and have our normal routine."
Many protesters also signed a petition calling for resignations. The petition circulated in Dzilth-na-o-dith-hle and the Counselor, Nageezi and Huerfano chapters. A group of protesters also filed a complaint in February with the New Mexico Public Education Department.
"They say they're here for the kids, but they're only here for themselves," parent Rosita Atencio said of the administrators. "If we can get these people out of our community, our kids will be safe."
Demonstrators also are calling on the Bureau of Indian Affairs to investigate the school. Dzilth-na-o-dith-hle Community School opened in 1968 under BIA jurisdiction. It became a grant school in 2005, shifting control away from the federal government. The school, which offers boarding facilities and day classes to about 240 students, answers to the Eastern Navajo Education Line Office and operates under a local school board.
The alleged corruption extends from administrators to bus drivers and substitute teachers, Atencio said.
"We will not stand for this as parents," she said. "We're going to keep coming back, and we're not stopping until there is a change."
By removing administrators, critics hope to return the school to its status before going grant. Questionable leadership only hurts the children, said John Augustine, parent of five students in the grant school and a former bus driver at Dzilth-na-o-dith-hle.
Augustine said he supports a movement to block the school from getting recertified as a grant school.
"They say no child is left behind," he said, "but our children are being robbed of their education. They are falling behind."
Woody said much of the dissatisfaction could be linked to the school's grant status. Parents and teachers are blaming administration for the school's inability to meet No Child Left Behind Act standards, she said. However, the same challenges existed prior to the transition.
"Is there a school out there that's not leaving children behind?" she said. "The protesters are misinformed. They only have half-truths."
Like most schools in the public and tribal sectors, Dzilth-na-o-dith-hle is pursuing programs to increase student performance. According to records provided by the school, students' reading scores gradually are increasing.
Executive Director Gary Jackson said protesters are not taking into account the obstacles inherent in tribal schools. The student population at Dzilth-na-o-dith-hle Community School is 100 percent Navajo, and the school is required by Navajo preference regulations to hire Navajo staff whenever possible. Jackson already has resigned from his position, effective June 30.
He said accusations about the administration are unfounded, and objections are coming from only a handful of employees and parents.
"They have every right to do that," Jackson said of the protesters. "I think we made some mistakes and I'm sorry things have reached the point they have, but if we keep the focus on the kids, we can resolve everything."
Alysa Landry: firstname.lastname@example.org