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Osage Congress passes funding for Osage children impacted by school walk-out protests

As Oklahoma public school teachers, students and supporters participate in historic walk-out activities prompting some school closures, the Fifth Osage Nation Congress unanimously approved a $60,000 appropriation to fund a support plan for Osage students impacted by the closures.

On April 2, the Congress passed bill ONCA 18-11 (sponsored by Congressman Archie Mason), which provides a $60,000 appropriation in tribal funds to the Executive Branch, whose entities will manage and run daytime activities for Osage children not in school due to the closures. Thousands of teachers and supporters rallied in front of the State Capitol in Oklahoma City that day and a second day of protests of underfunded teacher salaries and school budgets continues April 3.

After the unanimous vote, Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear signed ONCA 18-11 to take effect and efforts to implement the support plan started. Standing Bear’s office worked on the plans for weeks as Oklahoma mainstream news coverage focused on the developments and those discussions also took place at several Osage County school board meetings, further prompting the ideas for a support plan should walk-outs result in local school closures.

“We asked that a bill be filed to address the teacher walk-out and for Osage Nation to accept all Osage students from (grades) K-12 under plan to care for the students in a meaningful way,” Standing Bear said in a statement. “This plan included educational programs, meals, and safety plans. Congressman Mason was good enough to file this attached legislation. Our team under the leadership of Director of Operations Casey Johnson, Deputy Director of Operations Jodie Revard, Education Director Mary Wildcat, Language Director Vann Bighorse and many others worked hard to prepare a plan and budget.”

Mason, a retired educator professional, said he supports his fellow teachers and called the situation a “unique” one and said the plan answers questions on what the Nation is doing for the children whose schools are closed for the protests.

Revard and Johnson answered questions from the Congress before the vote and said the support plan is to help approximately 300 Osage students accounted for by the Education Department. Johnson said the planning started weeks ago at the request of Standing Bear, adding “it’s better to have it than not need it.”

It’s unknown how long the walk-out activities will continue, so a support plan was drawn with an initial budget for 60 days, but after discussion, the Congress reduced the amount and passed the $60,000 appropriation “to carry out the purpose of providing educational programs and meals to students during school closures in Osage County from April 3 through April 16.” The $60,000 is appropriated to the Nation’s Emergency Management Department who will oversee the support plan and will work with employees volunteering to interact with the impacted students.  

In a statement, the ON Education Department said its employees “strengthened communication with Public School Districts, attended Board of Education meetings, and monitored social media as Administration and teachers across Osage County prepared for their protest against state educational funding decisions.”

The previous week, the Oklahoma Legislature approved a $6,100 raise for teachers, but the planned protests and walk-outs still took place starting April 3. Thousands of teachers descended on the state capitol Monday, demanding that lawmakers match the initial demands of a $10,000 raise for educators, along with a $5,000 raise for other school personnel and $75 million in education funding after the Legislature only granted about $50 million, according to the Associated Press.

For the ON’s support plan, “based upon the Education Department’s logistics and feedback from a community-driven survey, the Osage Nation plan intends to provide services to over 200 students affected by the walkout. Facilities are being designated, meals are being planned, employees are volunteering, and the Osage Nation Education Department and Language Department are designing a rotation of activities and educational services for participants.” 

The Education Department said ON Emergency Management Director Bobby Tallchief “stands by to manage the departments and employees as Osage Nation conducts the first Indigenous response to education in many years. Osage Nation staff will be standing by at the local Osage Nation WIC office in Pawhuska, Fairfax, Hominy, and Skiatook accepting applications for Osage students in need of this plan.” 

For applications and information on locations, contact the Emergency Management Office at (918) 287-5225.


By

Benny Polacca


Original Publish Date: 2018-04-03 00:00:00

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Benny Polaccahttps://osagenews.org
Benny Polacca started at the Osage News in 2009 as a reporter and has covered various stories and events impacting the Osage Nation and Osage people. Polacca is part of the News team awarded the Native American Journalist Association’s Elias Boudinot Free Press Award in 2014 and other NAJA Media Awards and SPJ Oklahoma Pro Chapter awards for news coverage and photography. Polacca is an Arizona State University graduate and participated in the former American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. He previously worked at The Forum newspaper covering the Fargo, N.D. region as the weeknight reporter.
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