OST President Investigating Accusations of Abuse at Reservation SchoolTweet
OST President Investigating Accusations of Abuse at Reservation Elementary School
Oglala Sioux Tribe President Bryan Brewer will meet with local school officials this week to discuss accusations of inappropriate touching of a student by a school staffer.
The incident allegedly took place earlier this month at Wolf Creek School, a Shannon County District public school located a few miles east of the town of Pine Ridge, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota. The accused school staffer—a teacher’s aide and non-tribal member who lives off the reservation—allegedly touched the student with his foot, moving it up and down her buttocks, in the hallway of Wolf Creek’s lower elementary school, which educates students through 5th grade.
An incident report was immediately filed with school administration, and school staff members were later told that security camera footage confirmed the physical contact between the teacher’s aide and young student.
School officials and former employees of Wolf Creek School, speaking under condition of anonymity, said that this is not the first time the teacher’s aide in question has been investigated for inappropriate behavior with students.
Two weeks after the incident was reported, the accused teacher’s aide is still working at Wolf Creek School. School employees were told by administrators that the investigation was closed, and that the accused had received a written reprimand, but no suspension. Employees were also told that neither law enforcement nor the student’s parents have been informed of the situation.
The 2008 Shannon County Schools Policy Manual defines sexual violence as “touching, patting, grabbing, or pinching another person’s intimate parts,” and requires that school staffers report any suspicions of abuse to the principal or superintendent. “The principal or Superintendent shall immediately report this information to the State’s Attorney, the South Dakota Department of Social Services, the County Sheriff, or the City Police,” the manual reads. A new policy manual was adopted by Shannon County earlier this month, but copies have not yet been printed or made public. It is unknown whether any changes were made to the school’s policy on reporting abuse.
“We are very concerned,” said OST president Bryan Brewer. “I’ll be meeting with the Shannon County Schools superintendent, and I’m going to ask for a copy of that video, ask for the investigation report, for the history on this person, things like that. It sounds like this isn’t the first time with this individual. I just want to see if they followed proper procedures. I’ve heard that the parents weren’t even notified, and that should be a part of any procedure.”
When contacted, Wolf Creek lower school principal Jeannine Metzger said that “we went through a process and it’s in the superintendent’s office,” and declined further comment, citing confidentiality rules. School superintendent Dr. Julie Ertz also declined to discuss the case.
Both tribal police and Bureau of Indian Affairs criminal investigators also declined to comment.
Like many Indian reservations, Pine Ridge suffers from extremely high rates of sexual abuse. Native American women are an estimated two and a half times more likely to be raped than other American women. For years, part of the problem was that tribal courts were unable to prosecute non-tribal members accused of sexual assault on reservation land. An amendment to the Violence Against Women Act allowing tribal police and prosecutors to go after non-Native offenders held up reauthorization of the act for months, but it was eventually passed last year, giving tribal courts jurisdiction over non-Native offenders.
Child sexual abuse is also believed to play a role in the high rate of suicide among Native American youth. In 2010, Shannon County Schools received a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help deal with recovery efforts after nine local students committed suicide during the 2009-10 school year alone. Shannon County Schools currently serve approximately 1,500 pre K-8th grade students, with nearly 100 more enrolled in the county’s online “virtual” high school.
“I’m not sure whether we’ll take this to our Law and Order Committee or our Education Committee,” OST president Brewer said of his efforts to get to the bottom of what happened at Wolf Creek School. “But we are taking this seriously.”
Reported by Joe Flood; a reporter and the author of the Amazon.com Books of the Month selection The Fires about New York City’s 1970s fire epidemic and fiscal crisis. He has reported for New York Magazine, Buzzfeed, the New York Post, Gizmodo, and the Atlantic, Economist and Sports Illustrated websites, among others. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.