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2018-08-30 / Voices

We Need a Virtual School


It is back to school week for our Lakota students. Many children are returning to their classrooms this week to continue their studies. College students are back in their university dorms and are reading their textbooks required for fall classes.

Still, it’s hard for many of our students to finish school. A number of factors affect our student’s ability to complete school. Our K-12 students might have the hardest time of all in staying in school.

There are many stories we hear of bullying. Lots of Lakota people have experienced the bully in person, while others are being emotionally or mentally terrorized online by people hiding behind a computer screen. Some students aren’t looking forward to returning to school because they don’t want to be traumatized by a bully.

Consequently, we have many students at the K-12 level on Rosebud who won’t attend classes at all. These students refuse to attend school because of how they are treated by many of their classmates, teachers, support staff, principals or school board members.

Parents will visit schools to meet with an administrator in order to resolve the bullying. Yet, the most common answer spoken by administrators or other school staff is “your child never said anything,” or that they “didn’t know there was a problem.” These are lame excuses. Bullying is a huge issue here on our reservations. Schools could hire more staff to combat the bullying incidents if that’s what is needed for our students to be safe.

We continually tell our students that an education is important, yet many students don’t feel safe at school. School administrators, faculty and support staff are paid decent money to ensure our children are safe so they can learn. Many parents get frustrated when school employees state they aren’t aware of the problems with bullying in schools. Stop making excuses.

There are some parents and grandparents who’d like to see a virtual school established on the Rosebud Reservation. Oglala Lakota County has a virtual school that operates out of Batesland, SD. We might see more of our teenagers finish high school if this option was offered to students here.

Consequently, there is an online public school offered in South Dakota for Kindergarten through twelfth grade students but it isn’t available to students living in Todd County. At one point, I tried to use the open enrollment option to register a relative in the online public school through the Bennett County School District but I was told they wouldn’t allow open enrollment for academics. Now isn’t that something, our students can open enroll to play sports, but they can’t use the same option to study at home. It just doesn’t make sense.

There are many students at the sixth-grade level and up who don’t attend school because of bullying. I believe parents and guardians have the right to keep their student home when they are concerned about safety. We’re all aware of the bullying incidents on our reservations that have led to suicide. We don’t want any more of our students to commit suicide. So please understand when family members refuse to subject their children to dangerous environments that exist at local schools.

Nobody has the right accuse parents of not being willing to help their students attend or stay in school when we all are aware of the dangers they face. Parents will choose safety over education. We want all our children to grow up in a safe environment.

So, instead of prosecuting parents for failing to send their children to school, many of us are looking to the local school districts and our tribal government to work on an alternative to the existing educational system on our reservations.

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and has been a journalist since 2001. She can be reached through email

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