Federal Agency Not Following Federal Law

Published March 1, 2000

Frustrated at the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ lack of progress in carrying out its responsibility to bring its schools into compliance with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, lawyers with the Native American Protection and Advocacy Project recently sued the federal government over the lack of education of five disabled children.

The suit, filed in federal district court in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on December 1, simply asks that the children be educated and that BIA ensures that schools receiving federal funds comply with IDEA. The suit names as defendants the U.S. Department of the Interior, the BIA, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, and BIA Secretary Kevin Gover.

According to a report in the Navajo Times, the BIA has not developed the policies and procedures required for its schools to comply with IDEA. BIA does not even have a due process procedure in place to handle complaints from parents, who have been trying for more than two years to resolve the non-compliance.

“The lack of action from the DOI and the BIA has proved a big injustice to these students, as well as many others like them,” NAPAP attorney Anna-Marie Johnson told the Navajo Times. She said the children often were excluded from class activities because of their disabilities, which include cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and learning disabilities.

The five children are from Tohatchi, Low Mountain, Pinon, Chinle, and Dilkon. NAPAP was formed in 1994 to address the unique problems facing disabled Native Americans living in the Navajo, Hopi and San Juan Southern Paiute communities.