The six Democrats in Oregon’s congressional delegation released a letter Wednesday pressing a top official in the Interior Department to answer questions about the Chemawa Indian School in Salem.
Chemawa is supposed to offer an academic home preparing students for college or careers in a safe and stable place. But an OPB investigation found the school is breaking its promise.
It comes in response to a series of stories from OPB that found health, safety and academic problems at the school. Staff have also complained to OPB that administrators would retaliate against anyone who raised concerns about how the school was managed.
The letter lists four specific areas it wants Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs John Tahsuda to look into: student safety and health, academic failings and high enrollment fluctuations, whistleblower protections, and overall transparency in decision making.
Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Salem, has heard similar concerns about the federally run school in his district over the years. Schrader helped launch an investigation of the school six years ago, but he said he wants a stronger response from the federal government this time.
“Nothing came of that investigation that I’m aware of — no recommendations, no feedback to us at the end of the day,” Schrader said. “If that’s the type of recommendation we get from the under secretary, we’re going to cry foul right away and jump to the next level of investigation.”
Schrader said he does not want the school to close.
Instead, he wants changes to ensure Native American kids who attend Chemawa receive a high-quality education.
“Hopefully out of this comes a much better program, that employees at the school feel like, ‘Wow, we’re being listened to, we’re part of the solution,’” the congressman said, “and those who are dedicated get to be part of that solution. Those frankly that are a problem, they’re going to be gone.”