Nick Nelson passes out paper copies of a notice of appeal to school board members Tuesday night regarding the district’s decision on a racism complaint at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé he filed in early December. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Nick Nelson passes out paper copies of a notice of appeal to school board members Tuesday night regarding the district’s decision on a racism complaint at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé he filed in early December. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Douglas Indian Association condemns district’s handling of racist insults complaint

Members “demand accountability,” say inaction could affect tribal consultations with the district.

Members of a federally recognized tribal government, the Douglas Indian Association, condemned the Juneau School District at the board of education’s Tuesday night meeting and expressed displeasure with the district’s response to a racism complaint filed in early December at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé.

Nick Nelson, a father representing one of the students listed in the complaint, addressed the board during a public comment period and handed out a notice of appeal to the district’s summary and response to the complaint, which states four Alaska Native students were the targets of racist slurs said by a fellow student, who is of Alaska Native descent, in the JDHS commons area during a lunch period.

Nelson stated that the heritage of the student reported to have made racist comments does not diminish their severity.

According to a late-December letter sent by Nelson to the district and shared with the Empire, the situation involved five student-athletes, with four being the target of multiple racist insults and one reported to have said the insults. While the letter identifies the students, the Empire is not naming them because they are minors who have not been charged with crimes.

Nelson stated that the students later had a conversation facilitated by a JDHS administrator and shook hands, and in his appeal, which was shared with the Empire, stated that the corrective action seems to deviate from district policy.

According to a copy of the district’s response shared with Empire, the district’s director of human resources, Lyle Melkerson, determined that the administration did follow the prescribed restorative practice of addressing the wrong and allowed the student to make amends.

Multiple JDHS administrators did not return calls or messages across multiple days for this article.

Andrea Cadiente-Nelson, DIA tribal administrator, said the DIA Council “demands accountability” from the district and said its inaction could affect how the tribe conducts its consultations with the district in the future.

Nelson, in his appeal, stated the district’s response is a failure of leadership by not abiding by its disciplinary policies and procedures in addressing the complaint.

In an interview with the Empire, Nelson said he “hopes to hold the school board accountable” and seeks further disciplinary action for the student who said the racist slurs.

Barbara Cadiente-Nelson, council member and secretary of the DIA and former district Native education grants administrator who in a social media post identified herself as a grandmother of two of the students targeted by racist remarks, also expressed concern and disappointment in public comments made to the board. Cadiente-Nelson said DIA found the “great length of time” to respond to the complaint to be “grievous and negligible.”

“The council is very concerned that no corrective action has taken place to date to address Mr. Nelson’s grievance where he cites a failure of administrator leadership and not upholding JSD’s equity policy or student disciplinary procedure,” Cadiente-Nelson said. “DIA cannot and will not tolerate historical, intergenerational trauma and systemic racism to continue.”

District Superintendent Bridget Weiss offered no comment to the Empire regarding the appeal and complaint. According to district policy, Weiss has up to 10 calendar days to decide the appeal, and if the person who filed the appeal is then unsatisfied with the decision, it will then go to the board for a decision.

On Friday, Weiss confirmed she is processing the appeal.

Multiple board members on Tuesday expressed concern about the complaint and appeal.

“I want to acknowledge and regret the alleged report that we heard at the beginning of the meeting,” said board member Amber Frommherz. “As a school board member, I am committed to the safety of our students and I appreciate the support that the DIA tribe has demonstrated to help us all create a better learning environment for our students.”

Board member Martin Stepetin also spoke in regard to the complaint and appeal, and said he personally took the report seriously and expressed hope that the issue can be resolved before it goes to the board.

“I believe that the issue should not be a board issue, but if it does, just know that the board will do what’s right and take the proper action,” he said.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.

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