Stephen C. has been taught only math and English at a U.S.-run elementary school for Native American children deep in a gorge off the Grand Canyon. Teachers have left midyear, and he repeatedly faces suspension and arrest for behavior his attorneys say is linked to a disability stemming from traumatic experiences.
The 12-year-old is among children from Arizona's remote and impoverished Havasupai reservation who are a step closer to their push for systematic reform of the U.S. agency that oversees tribal education, alleging in a lawsuit it ignored complaints about an understaffed school, a lack of special education and a deficient curriculum.
The students' attorneys say they won a major legal victory recently when a federal court agreed that childhood adversity and trauma can be learning disabilities, a tactic the same law firm used in crime-ridden Compton, California. They say the case could have widespread effects for Native children in more than 180 schools nationwide overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education and in schools with large Native populations.
"Education is our lifeline and our future for our kids — and all students, not just down here, but nationally," Havasupai Chairwoman Muriel Coochwytewa said. The Bureau of Indian Education has "an obligation to teach our children. And if that's not going on, then our children will become failures, and we don't want that."
Havasupai students face adversity and generational trauma from repeated broken promises from the U.S. government, efforts to eradicate Native culture and tradition, discrimination and the school's tendency to call police to deal with behavioral problems, attorneys say.
U.S. District Judge Steven Logan wrote in a late March ruling that the students' lawyers adequately alleged "complex trauma" and adversity can result in physiological effects leading to a physical impairment. He moved the case forward, denying Justice Department requests to dismiss some of the allegations but agreeing to drop plaintiffs from the lawsuit who no longer attend Havasupai Elementary School.
Noshene Ranjbar, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona, said medical literature has expanded in the past 20 years to include trauma that isn't linked only to singular events.
In Native communities she's worked with in the Dakotas and Arizona, "they agree the root of everything they suffer with is this unresolved grief, loss, trauma, anger, decades of disappointment on a huge scale," she said.
When students act out, schools too often turn to suspension, expulsion or arrest instead of finding what's driving the bad behavior, she said. Usually, it's "a hurt human being that is using the wrong means to cope," Ranjbar said.
The Public Counsel law firm pressing the Havasupai case also sued the Compton Unified School District — which is majority black and Latino — in 2015 over disability services for students with complex trauma. A judge said students with violent and traumatic pasts could be eligible for such services but didn't apply the ruling to all who experience trauma.
The U.S. Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment on the Havasupai ruling.
Government attorney Cesar Lopez-Morales said at a hearing last year that while trauma could result in a disability, federal agencies cannot assume every Native student with shared experiences is disabled. They would need specifics of individuals' impairments and how those affect their lives.
He said attorneys also failed to show the students were denied benefits solely because of disabilities.
Havasupai Elementary School has three teachers for kindergarten through eighth grade on a remote reservation home to about 650 people and world-renowned for its blue-green waterfalls.
The village of Supai can be reached only by mule, foot or helicopter, making it the most isolated of the Bureau of Indian Education's schools in the Lower 48 states. The reservation doesn't have a high school.
The students' attorneys say the area is beset with high levels of poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, family violence and low literacy levels. All 70 elementary school students qualify for free or reduced lunch and most are limited in English and math proficiency, and have special education needs.
"What we know from the science is that, particularly unaddressed, the impact of trauma can impact the ability to learn, read, think, concentrate and communicate," Public Counsel attorney Kathryn Eidmann said.
The lawsuit seeks to force the government to provide services for special needs, a thorough curriculum, culturally relevant education and staff training to respond to trauma.
Stephen C., whose full name is not listed in court documents, enrolled as a kindergartner but can hardly read or write now that he's in seventh grade. His attorneys say he has an attention deficit disorder and experiences trauma from witnessing alcohol abuse at school and from his relatives being forced into boarding schools.
At one point, he pulled a plug out of a computer monitor and faced a federal indictment, the lawsuit says.
Some Havasupai parents have sent their children to boarding schools off the reservation rather than deal with inadequate educational services.
Stephen's guardian has considered it, too. But he said in a statement that tribal members want children with them in the canyon, to watch them grow and be a part of the community.
Three entities have submitted proposals for the use of Coconino County’s 30-acre housing compound at the edge of Rogers Lake southwest of Flagstaff.
The submissions for the Frontiere property came from:
The county will now analyze the proposals and select those it wants to move forward with, then ask for more detailed business plans, said Cynthia Nemeth-Briehn, director of the county’s parks and recreation department.
If that route doesn’t work out, county supervisors are also moving forward on setting fees for renting out the Frontiere site on a daily basis for events such as conferences and weddings. And under the current proposal, the price increases could be steep.
The county currently rents the Frontiere property for $1,020 per day, regardless of time, overnight stay or day of the week. Under a draft fee schedule presented to supervisors on Tuesday, the daily rental rate would range from $760 for day use on a weekday to $6,500 for overnight use on a holiday weekend — more than six times the current price.
Nemeth-Briehn said county staff came up with those numbers based on estimated costs to maintain the space and administer special events as well as what other similar event spaces were charging.
“We want to be able to offer services at fair market value,” she said. “If we charged $1,000, what the fee is now, we're underselling this property.”
The property borders Rogers Lake Natural Area and the buildings include a six-bedroom residence above a 16-stall equestrian stable, a three-bedroom caretaker quarters with a five-car garage and a 6,000 square-foot unfinished foundation.
The forest road that leads to the Frontiere site, which is about six miles from the intersection of Woody Mountain Road and Route 66, is not plowed and can be gated during the winter. But if the successful bidder wanted to use the property year-round, Nemeth-Briehn said users could work with the Forest Service to get a permit to maintain and access the dirt road.
Among other venues around the area, Arizona Nordic Village charges $6,500 for overnight weekend rentals, the Arboretum charges $1,500 for a six-hour time block on weekends and holidays and Viola’s Garden charges between $2,500 to $4,200 for evening rentals, according to a county report.
Nemeth-Briehn said the Frontiere property fee increases will get a public hearing before the board of supervisors in April, then will go through a 60-day noticing period. If approved after that, the fees would go into effect no later than July 1.
If the county approves a contract with an operator for the Frontiere Property, it would be the sixth public-private partnership under the county’s parks and recreation department. The five others include The North Pole Experience, the Flagstaff Snow Park and the Pepsi Amphitheater.
For fiscal years 2016, 2017 and the first part of fiscal year 2018, the county received revenues of about $646,000 from those partnerships.
Each contract is different in terms of responsibilities and expectations of each party, but all include a revenue sharing model and a base payment owed to the county, spokesman Matt Rudig said in an email. The North Pole Experience, for example, has a minimum payment due to the county and pays more based on the number of tickets sold. R Entertainment, the operator of the Pepsi Amphitheater, pays the county $40,000 per season or $2 per ticket sold, whichever is greater, for events they produce at the venue. If ticket sales surpass 17,500 in any year, under the contract the county gets an additional $10,000.
The majority of operations and maintenance costs are the responsibility of the private partner, though the county does pay some costs and the two entities generally share the cost of improvements, Rudig said.
PHOENIX -- Arizona's top elected officials, both Republicans, are not going to join the lawsuit filed by Democrat officials in some states challenging the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census even though it could mean that Arizona won't get its fair share of federal dollars and political representation.
Daniel Scarpinato, press aide to Gov. Doug Ducey, said his boss is opposed to more lawsuits.
"And he supports having accurate statistical information,'' Scarpinato said.
Attorney General Mark Brnovich also has no interest in Arizona becoming one of the 17 states, seven cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors that sued the U.S. Department of Commerce over its plans to question everyone about whether they are citizens.
But Brnovich spokesman Ryan Anderson said that should not be seen as an endorsement of the policy change. He said the issue has become "overly politicized,'' with the litigation led largely by Democrat attorneys general, though the Conference of Mayors represents more than 1,400 cities led by elected officials from both major parties.
And Anderson stressed that Brnovich is not exactly thrilled by the decision by federal officials to add yet another question to what is supposed to be, according to the U.S. Constitution, a simple counting of heads.
"We have broad concerns regarding the collection and use of data by the government that go beyond the current lawsuit,'' Anderson said. And he said Brnovich recognizes the potential financial and political implications of an undercount.
"We certainly want the reported numbers in Arizona to accurately reflect our growing population,'' Anderson said.
But while refusing to rule out his own lawsuit down the road, he said Brnovich believes the best course of action, at least for now, is to raise questions with the Trump administration and Congress about the need for the additional information and whether there might be some way to alter that decision between now and when census counters go out in early 2020.
Scarpinato, however, said Ducey is not convinced it is obvious that there will be an undercount and, even if so, it will affect Arizona's share of federal dollars. Nor does he see any problem with the question itself.
"What's the harm in additional information?'' Scarpinato said.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in New York contends the new question could deter those not in the country legally from responding at all to the decennial count.
What makes that significant is that these counts have significant financial and political implications.
Some forms of federal financial aid are distributed based on population. If a state is undercounted, it won't get its fair share.
Arizona could end up on the short end of the deal.
The Pew Research Center estimates there were about 325,000 people who were here illegally as of September 2016, its most recent report. That is about 4.7 percent of the state population at the same time.
By comparison, undocumented population nationwide in 2016 was 3.5 percent.
And there's something else.
Representation in the U.S. House will be reallocated using the figures from the 2020 count.
Arizona, which is growing faster than much of the rest of the country, is likely to pick up a 10th House seat. But the question of whether it gets another could depend on the count.
There also are intrastate issues.
As on the federal level, some forms of state revenue sharing are allocated according to population. So communities could be shorted if they have a higher-than-average percentage of undocumented residents who choose not to answer the census.
Similarly, when the Independent Redistricting Commission realigns the state's 30 legislative districts, which are supposed to have nearly equal population, it will be using data from the 2020 census.
The lawsuit says it's clear that adding the question to the count will affect the outcome.
“As defendants' own research shows, this decision will inevitably jeopardize the overall accuracy of the population count by significantly deterring participation in immigrant communities, because of concerns about how the federal government will use citizenship information,'' the legal papers read. And it says the concerns "have been amplified by the anti-immigrant policies, actions, and rhetoric targeting immigrant communities from President Trump and this Administration.''
Anderson said the concerns of his boss into government intrusion go beyond the citizenship question.
"The census calls for a count of individuals,'' he said. "There are broader questions of why does the government need to know how long it takes us to get to work, for example.''
But Anderson was cautious in terms of what voters should do about those concerns.
"The attorney general is not going to advocate for individuals to boycott the census,'' he said. "But there is also the fundamental issue here that every individual, regardless of citizenship status, is always free to not answer questions they feel is a violation of their privacy.''
The concern about the political nature of the citizenship question was amplified during a press conference earlier this week announcing the multi-state lawsuit.
"This is a brazen attempt by the Trump administration to cheat on the census, to undermine the accuracy of the census and to attack states that have large immigrant populations, most of which just happen to be Democratic states,'' said Congressman Jerrold Nadler a New York Democrat.