Desert Vista students allege harassment 
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 26, 2005

Betty Beard

Gila River Indian Community students and parents complained Tuesday of harassment and discrimination at Desert Vista High School.

They complained of being picked on by other non-Indian students, being called "savages" and other derogatory names, and of not getting help from teachers.

Three dozens parents, school district officials and students met at a community center on the Gila River Indian Reservation to discuss their concerns. Parents at the meeting said they tried to tell their children to ignore the taunts but the kids often ended up getting in fights, becoming discouraged and dropping out.

School officials voiced concern and said the district is considering an Indian education program, one that would offer tutors, support groups, mentors, parent classes, and bus service for students who want to participate in afterschool activities.

There are 535 Native American students in the Tempe Union High School District this year, including 25 at Desert Vista.

About 50 Native American students attend Mountain Pointe High School in Ahwatukee, but the complaints at this meeting were about Desert Vista.

Some Gila high school students go to school in the towns of Casa Grande, Tolleson and Coolidge. Others attend Tempe High School, McClintock High School and other Valley high schools, including a charter high school in Ahwatukee.

Julian Hart, 17, said he was often picked on by other teens and once was falsely accused by a school resource officer of having a gun.

To the group he said: "I got fed up with it. I got mad. I said I'm not going to school anymore. It gets on your nerves."

Several students said that teachers wouldn't help them, and one parent said a teacher told her she feared going to the reservation because it might be "scary."

Gila River Lt. Gov. Mary Thomas said the district needs to know many families have no water, electricity or transportation. Many students have to catch the bus at 6:45 a.m. because they live so far away and school doesn't start until 8:30 a.m.

"They have to understand what our lives are like," she said.

District superintendent Shirley Miles said it was the first time she was aware of district governing board members coming to the reservation. "I'm really happy we had this listening meeting," she said.

Mary Lou Taylor, president of the Tempe Union governing board, said some of what she heard made her sad.

"I want you to be welcome," she told the students.