Tulsa Public Schools Restructuring Native American Education Program Prompts Pushback


Saturday, February 22nd 2020, 8:12 pm
By: Amelia Mugavero


Saturday's peaceful protest comes a month after Tulsa Public Schools proposed restructuring the program and cutting positions due to its budget shortfall.

People affected said they now plan to fight.

“This is just the beginning,” protestor Alice Whitecloud said.

Whitecloud said she refuses to stay silent while her two grandkids’ Indian education program, a program they rely on for tutoring and supplies, is in jeopardy.

“As a grandma, its emotional because you don’t want anyone taking from your children or grandchildren when its rightfully theirs,” Whitecloud said.

Dr. Tryg Jorgensen, an Indian education resource advisor, said the program provides priceless education about native heritage to over 3,000 children in the district.

Jorgensen said up to seven positions could be cut from the program, according to a letter he received from TPS.

“They told us they were recreating new positions and we would be allowed to transfer to other schools. We challenge that,” Jorgensen said.

Jorgenson said TPS is giving false information concerning the funding source of the program as well as the reason for making cuts.

“Our funds come strictly from the federal government, not from the state of Oklahoma,” Jorgensen said. “Originally said it was budgetary, now they have changed the story and that it is performance-based. However, none of our performances reflect that.”

While protestors stood their ground outside the Wilson Teaching & Learning Center, TPS held a community meeting inside to get feedback about the Indian Ed program.

The meeting was open to parents, teachers, staff and anyone interested in the program.

Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist said the district has put their initial proposal aside for the time being.

“We've gotten some really good feedback from people that said we need to slow down and listen more, so we did,” Gist said. “At this moment in time, we are listening and gathering information.”

Gist also confirmed that the district sent out letters to employees in the Indian Education program whose position could be moved or restructured.

“We have notified the people in the office in the current positions that their positions will be eliminated to restructure the program so we can work within the means of what we have financially. I am confident we can improve services to our Native American students and, as a system, do a better job in identifying students,” Gist said.

Gist said they still plan to present a new proposal in mid-March.

With the district already making several cuts, Jorgensen said he fears their program is next and will take legal action if necessary.

“Maybe they're not aware just how strong the Indian community is,” Jorgensen said.  

The next meeting will be Wednesday, Feb 26 (6 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.) at the Wilson Teaching and Learning Academy.