1 Oct 2021
A new California education law signed by Governor Gavin Newsom will allow Native American students to be exempted from school so they can participate in cultural ceremonies.
The law emerged in the northern state, as schools continue to mend their relationships with Native American students and reduce absenteeism. The Shasta County Education Office has started conversations with MP Megan Dahle, R-Bieber, about the need to recognize and protect the rights of students to participate in traditions within their tribal communities.
The Record Searchlight in December 2020 told the story of local Native American students attending public schools and the work SCOE is doing to enhance their experience and build confidence while avoiding absences.
Prior to the passage of Assembly Bill 516, Native American families could be penalized if their children missed school days to participate in cultural events, as those days were not legally required to be excused. In some cases, students have not been able to make up for missed work or tests, said Judy Flores, superintendent of Shasta County schools.
“It’s certainly gratifying to see that the work we do is impacting our local students, locally and beyond. It is a sign of respect for our young tribals and their families to say that we recognize that this cultural event is of value to you and that we will do all we can to support it, ”said Flores.
School leaders have worked to reduce the rate of chronic school absenteeism among young Amerindians.
This is a problem for all groups of students, but especially for Native American students, who are chronically absent or miss more than 10% of school, a significantly higher rate than any other group in the state.
In Shasta County, where 4% of the student body is Native American, some school districts have marked up to 30% of their Native student population chronically absent in recent years, Flores said.
To address this, the Office of Education created the American Indian Advisory Board (AIAB), in partnership with school administrators and representatives from each of the four tribes in Shasta County – Okwanuchu, Pit River, Yana and Wintu. – to support Native American students.
Related:Here’s why Native American students are missing at senior levels in Shasta County
The AIAB has created lesson plans to teach the history and culture of the Native American tribes of Shasta County. The council also trained teachers.
And in January 2020, Flores began discussing education issues with Dahle, highlighting student absenteeism rates as one of the issues. Conversations ended when the coronavirus pandemic began and the committee closed for the rest of the year.
In January 2021, Dahle introduced a bill to excuse absences due to cultural ceremonies.
“The ideas were brought to us by community leaders and constituents. And being able to get that down from the local level to the legislature and throughout the process, to get it assigned to the law, that’s really good, ”Dahle said.
The passing of AB 516 is a stimulating example of the ability to create change, said Becky Love. Love recently retired, but was the SCOE council coordinator and an advisor on AIAB until 2021.
“What a great example of our work as the head of the Northern State in so many ways,” she said.
Following:Coronavirus in Shasta County: Number of COVID cases exceeds 4,000 in September, 19,000 in total
Countless alumni have worked to make it a possibility today, said Kenwa Kravitz.
As a member of Pit River and Wintu, a student who grew up in the Shasta County public school system and now an AIAB member and cultural consultant, Kravitz said she was honored to be a part of the change, but recognizes that the groundwork has already been laid.
“When I heard about it I was like wow it’s amazing it’s awesome I would like to say it’s time for our people and our rights to be recognized,” Kravitz said.
“Whether this gets passed into law in a state that once sought the extermination of my people is a very big deal. It is important to right the wrongs. It’s a long time coming and it’s about time.
Nada Atieh is a Report For America corps member and education reporter focusing on childhood trauma and the achievement gap for the Redding Record Searchlight. Follow her on Twitter at @nadatieh_RS. Help local journalism thrive by subscribing today! And if you can, consider a tax-deductible giveaway for her work..