ACLU Reaches Settlement on Behalf of Native American Students Impacted by School Closure

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The ACLU of Northern California (ACLU-NC) has reached a settlement agreement with the Del Norte Unified School District in its class-action lawsuit on behalf of Native American students impacted by the closure of several grades at the only school teaching Yurok language and culture in the district. The suit, filed in 2007, charged that the district's closure of grades 6-8 of the Margaret Keating Elementary School on the Yurok reservation constituted racial discrimination against Native American students. The law firm Covington & Burling LLP worked with the ACLU of Northern California on the case on a pro bono basis. The settlement was reached without going to trial, and does not include monetary damages.

As a result of the settlement, the district will create an afterschool program that teaches Yurok language and culture. The program will provide opportunities to learn about and preserve Yurok values, customs and tradition. The district will also reduce transportation burdens by providing additional bus service for the students displaced from Margaret Keating Elementary School who live on the Yurok reservation.

"We're extremely happy that the district is working to remedy the lingering impact of the closure and that it will now provide students with opportunities to learn Yurok language and culture," said Jory Steele, Managing Attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. "The new afterschool program celebrates the rich diversity of the area and will benefit all students."

Margaret Keating Elementary School, located in Klamath, California was the only school to provide instruction in the Yurok language and skills central to the survival of Yurok culture, and the only school in the district where a majority of the students are Native American. When the district closed grades 6-8 at the school in 2005, the students were reassigned to a school off the reservation in Crescent City, and spend up to three hours roundtrip each day on a bus.

"As a result of the settlement agreement the district will create an afterschool program at the Crescent Elk Middle School in Crescent City that teaches Yurok language and culture. The program will provide opportunities to learn about and preserve Yurok values, customs, and tradition," said Don Brown, Managing Partner at the law firm Covington and Burling, LLP.

The Yurok Tribe Education Director will work with the District to ensure the after school program's quality and will oversee the cultural activities and language instruction. It will be offered five days a week and will be open to all students.

The agreement also remedies concerns about consistency of bus service. The district will provide morning bus service picking children up at the Yurok Tribal Office as an optional alternative to at-home pick up. Emergency transportation will also be made available to students who become ill during the school day and need to be taken to their home in the Klamath area, if a parent or guardian is unable to make the trip to pick them up.

In a separate agreement reached between the ACLU of Northern California and the district in 2009, the district took steps to address harassment of Native American students by peers and teachers, and disparities in discipline of Native American students in district schools.

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