SHIPROCK — Residents of all communities in the Central Consolidated School District haggled Thursday over the reasons Kirtland group Children First is trying to split the district.

Navajo and Anglo citizens traded arguments during the public comment period of the board meeting, attended by more than 50 people.

Rick Nez, a San Juan Chapter resident, accused the group of violating the civil rights of the district's Navajo citizens.

"Are we going to have separate drinking fountains?" he asked. "I thought those days were over."

Nez also quoted from Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous anti-racism speech, "I have a dream."

His comments came before Marsha Peter, a member of Children First, informed the board that the group has support from 62 percent of registered voters in the proposed new district, and that the petition was certified by the county clerk's office.

State law instructs those seeking creation of a separate district, once they have a certified petition with signatures from at least 60 percent of registered voters, simply to inform the governing board. That petition then is forwarded to the state Public Education Department, which has 90 days to schedule a public hearing to determine whether a split is in the best interest of both districts.

Many of the Navajo residents at Thursday's meeting believe a split is not in the best interest of the Navajo children or employees.


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The proposal calls for the district to split along the reservation line, pulling the six Kirtland-area schools from the existing district.

"Kids are asking me Why don't they want us?'" Nez said of his Navajo neighbors. "This is a civil rights violation."

A Newcomb-area district employee, Geraldine Mike, also accused Children First of discriminating against the reservation portion of the district.

"We feel finally there are positive changes in this district," she said.

Members of Children First spent six months going door-to-door asking voters to sign a petition in support of splitting the district. The group formed after a May 17 board meeting during which four of the five members approved the immediate closure of the Kirtland Business Office.

Anglo residents, also during Thursday's public comment period, argued that racism goes both ways.

In other business, the board failed to approve items allowing Board President Matthew Tso to take action on behalf of the board in regards to the district's political turmoil.

The board voted 3-1 against allowing Tso to send a lengthy letter to Education Secretary-Designate Hanna Skandera addressing her concerns regarding Acting Superintendent Don Levinski. Skandera, in a Nov. 8 letter to Levinski, warned of his suspension if he didn't remedy more than a dozen management violations.

Tso was the only board member to vote in favor of the action. The district's attorney drafted the letter, he said, but he did not provide copies of the letter to other board members.

"It basically states, it's a summary of all the stuff that's happened from the perspective of the majority of the board," Tso said of the letter. The letter also calls out Skandera for her "unnecessary intrusion into the district" and "unprecedented micromanagement."

The board also failed to vote on two additional items Tso put on the meeting's agenda Wednesday afternoon, about 24 hours prior to the meeting.

Those items would have allowed Tso to file a complaint with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights against Children First, Skandera and Byron Manning, former executive director of finance and operations; and to send a public records request to the state, seeking all the records Skandera used to write her letter to Levinski.