A Montana judge upholds the suit on original education requirements

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A Montana judge refused to dismiss A lawsuit Tuesday, by Native American tribes, parents and students against state education leaders who claim that the state’s unique constitutional requirement to teach students about Native American history and culture has not been upheld.

said Judge Amy Eddy, who explained that she would provide the exact justification for her ruling in about a month.

The hearing came 50 years after the state constitution included this educational requirement. Other countries, incl ConnecticutWashington, Oregon, California and North Dakota have committed in recent years to strengthening these types of educational requirements, but Montana remains the only one to include them in its constitution.

Deputy Attorney General Thane Johnson, who represents the defendants, including the Montana Office of Public Education and the Montana Board of Public Education, argued that the constitutional provision — aside from funding — is not only “ambitious,” but that it’s not up to the state to enforce these content standards.

“I think this case is about this old cliché, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink… Defendants can provide funding, they can provide resources to school districts, but ultimately the school districts are in charge of teaching the school’s curriculum Johnson said.

Alex Wright, legal director for the Montana Civil Liberties Union, countered that leading a horse to water and making it drink is actually the responsibility of the state.

“If tomorrow half of the schools in the state decide to stop teaching mathematics, the state will certainly not take the position that it has no role in standardizing mathematics curricula in those circumstances,” Moadel said. “The irony is that you find me math in the Montana Constitution. It doesn’t exist.”

In 1999, the legislature passed the Indian Education for All Act, which again advocates for Native American education and requires education officials to work directly with the tribes when developing that curriculum.

In a 2004 lawsuit regarding school funding, a state court found that the educational goals of Montana showed no commitment to preserving Native American cultural identity. Funding began to be allocated a few years later.

The current lawsuit, which was filed in 2021 in district court in Great Falls, Montana, aims for school districts to count the program funding that was earmarked and spend the money on Native American education, as well as face the consequences of not doing those things, the rate told the Associated Press. Press.

During the hearing, Eddy brought up a lawsuit in the suit that school districts documented spending of only about 50% of the $6.7 million earmarked for Indian Education for All in 2019 and 2020.

She said she has difficulty getting around the argument that the state is not responsible for making sure that funding is properly allocated.

“I have a really hard time with that conclusion,” she said. “What if this is funding for private education?” Eddie asked.

The suit cites an independent evaluation of the program from 2015, which found its implementation to be “extremely poor” in some counties, and attributed this to a “lack of accountability.”

Schools have also reported using the funds for things not directly related to the program, including an elementary school library in Helena that appears to have purchased a book about badgers using the funds, according to the lawsuit.

Shawna Yellow Kidney, a Blackfeet native and mother of three Missoula elementary school students, said Monday night before the hearing that she wants to teach the cultural knowledge of the state’s eight federally recognized tribes, but also the value of Indigenous peoples. practices.

“We have ways of knowing that are different from the white community, and they are strong and beautiful,” she said. “And that would benefit my girls, in every step of their education, by being able to share with their classmates that—the beauty and strength of the Native tribes here in Montana—what they once stood for and still stand for today.”


This story has been updated to correct the judge’s name.