A grassroots movement seeking legal action against the Bureau of Indian Education is gaining momentum as more former employees join the dispute.

Opposition to the agency began in January when two former special education employees filed a lawsuit against the Shiprock Education Line Office, charging officials with racial and sexual harassment, hostile work environments, wrongful termination and misuse of funds from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

At least two more former Shiprock agency employees are filing similar complaints, and educators in the Eastern Navajo and Western Navajo agencies have joined the movement.

Meanwhile, Bureau of Indian Education officials have for months consistently denied comment on the complaints.

Sara Stilson resigned last month as special education coordinator at Tiis Nazbas Community School in Teec Nos Pos, Ariz., after questioning the school's use of special education funds and staff-to-student ratio in the special education program. She claims she had a case load of 47 students and needed two additional staff members to keep up with the demand.

Stilson said the agency also withheld her pay for six weeks.

"Nothing is consistent out there," she said. "There is no oversight. This is a branch of the federal government that is serving kids illegally."

Betty Damon was fired from her job as home living specialist at the Aztec Peripheral Dormitory in November for insubordination and disloyalty, according to her termination notice.


She is seeking legal action against the school and the Bureau of Indian Education, claiming she was wrongfully terminated.

Damon further claims the school misuses federal funds and does not follow proper protocol in its hiring procedures. She is one of several former Aztec employees seeking an investigation into the school's management.

Michael Gaddy, a spokesman for Bureau of Indian Education employees, contacted U.S. Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., last fall, demanding an investigation, but said his appeals are ignored. Complaints filed with the Federal Bureau of Investigation also have not yielded results, he said.

Gaddy is representing four former Bureau of Indian Education employees, as well as several current employees who fear their jobs are in danger.

"This group intends to take the information to the Navajo Nation and to the U.S. attorneys in Albuquerque and Phoenix," he said. "We're not stopping until we get some answers."

The Daily Times reported in its Jan. 14 edition that Gwen Francis, of Farmington, and Susanna Turose, of Mancos, Colo., both filed lawsuits against Joel Longie, head of the Shiprock Education Line Office. Longie oversees 13 Bureau of Indian Education schools in New Mexico, Utah and Arizona.

Francis claimed she was terminated in October as special education coordinator at Tiis Nazbas Community School when she learned of a student who was not getting the services detailed on his Individualized Education Plan. Francis is asking for a $2.5 million settlement.

Turose claimed she lost her job as acting principal of Red Rock Day School in Red Valley, Ariz., after complaining her salary was cut by nearly $6 per hour. Turose said she was reassigned to Tiis Nazbas Community School to work as a special education teacher, but fired at the end of the school year last year after a 16-year career in education.

Employees of the Dzilth-na-o-dith-hle Community School are filing similar complaints with the New Mexico Public Education Department and the Navajo Nation. The grant school is in the Eastern Navajo Agency but has local control of its finances.

Kim Tsosie said she was fired from the school two years ago after she questioned the administration's policies. She was working in the dormitory in 2005 when she learned about an incident of sexual assault she believes went unreported.

"The incident got to my stomach," she said. "It was never reported, and they never alerted the community. It just disappeared."

Tsosie said she pressed the administration for answers, but got fired in return. She filed a complaint in February with the New Mexico Public Education Department, claiming she was wrongfully terminated. Critics of the school also claim teachers and administration are neglecting the students and misuse money.

Dzilth-na-o-dith-hle employees are joining forces with Gaddy to confront the state and the Navajo Nation with issues Gaddy said are commonplace in the Bureau of Indian Education.

"There exists in the (Bureau of Indian Education) discrimination, harassment, intimidation and threats to the adult staff along with criminal misappropriation of federally mandated funds and gross mismanagement," Gaddy said. "The greatest crime is that being perpetrated on the children, especially those with special needs."

Alysa Landry: alandry@daily-times.com