Education ultimatum
Chief threatens school boycott if concerns not addressed

Derek Neary
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson ( May 26/00) - Liidlii Kue First Nation Chief Rita Cli warned that some students may not return to school this fall if their educational concerns are not addressed.

Cli spoke out at the Fort Simpson District Education Authority held May 2. And according to DEA minutes, Cli levelled numerous criticisms during the meeting.

Among them was children being advanced in grade level despite not being able to grasp the material. She also had misgivings over students being left with unqualified classroom assistants or being sent out of the class instead of being dealt with one-on-one. And graduates from Thomas Simpson school have to upgrade to get into Aurora College, she said.

Shane Thompson, chair of the Fort Simpson DEA, said the GNWT's inclusive schooling policy -- which keeps children of the same age level in the same grades despite special needs -- is also distressing to DEA members, each of whom have signed a letter to the minister of Education regarding the matter.

"We feel that inclusive schooling is not helping our youth," Thompson said.

On another front, Cli said allegations of children being roughed up and manhandled, even by teachers, have been brought to her attention. She suggested such incidents were not being dealt with properly.

Thompson said no specific details were given regarding the incidents.

"Sometimes a teacher grabbing a student's arm, that could be taken as 'manhandled,'" he explained. "We weren't given specifics (by Cli). It was just a general comment."

Nolan Swartzentruber, director of the Deh Cho Divisional Board of Education, agreed that specific circumstances are needed to warrant an investigation.

"I haven't been able to identify any specifics at this point," he said. "Certainly, that (type of action) is not condoned or supported and would be corrected."

Cli also said that there's no support for aboriginal teachers to improve themselves or attend courses. She said some educational staff raised the situation and she was disturbed that they felt they had no other recourse than to come to the LKFN with their problems.

Swartzentruber said the NWT Teachers' Association provides funding for professional development as does the Deh Cho Divisional Education Council, for those who don't belong to the union. He added that courses, particularly for aboriginal language instructors, are held in the Deh Cho. As a matter of fact, one was held in Fort Simpson last month, he said.

Funding has been approved for two more of those courses next year, he added.

"And we encourage as many people as possible to take that, particularly staff," he said.

As to the threat that students will be withheld from school, Swartzentruber said he hopes that won't happen.

"At this point I don't even want to get to that position because hopefully we're going to have things resolved," he said.

"We're meeting with the band on a regular basis, the principals are doing presentations there, we're trying to have the chief come and spend some time at the school."

Thompson concurred that a student withdrawal wouldn't help.

"That's not the direction we want it to go. We feel that the youth are the most important people here. Let's not forget that issue," Thompson said.

"There's some stuff that has to be improved, but there's some exceptional stuff that's going on in both schools that we should not lose sight of."

Cli could not be reached for further comment earlier this week.