A group of about 25 people met in the Waubun Community Center to tell stories of physical and emotional abuse of students. They told of parents being shut out when they tried to advocate for their children.
Paul Schultz says Indian students in the high school are not being given an equal opportunity to learn.
"If you have teachers who are pulling kids hair, pushing them around, spitting in their faces, hollering at them in the public halls, making discipline a public rather than private issue," Schultz said. "How are these kids every going to develop a sense of being okay and accepted in the educational realm?"
Schultz says he doesn't want to issue a sweeping indictment of the Waubun school. He says some Indian kids are flourishing there. But Schultz says American Indian kids are too often written off as discipline problems.
"The difficulty comes as we push these kids into behavior where they start to think of themselves as problems and then become more and more of a problem," Schultz said. "It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy."
Parents told of students being put on a ten most wanted list as part of their discipline. Waubun Superintendent Boyd Bradbury says he has no knowledge of such a list, and hopes it doesn't exist.
Bradbury says he doesn't want to dismiss the concerns raised by parents, but he believes the school district is treating every student fairly. Nearly 70 percent of the students attending Waubun schools identify themselves as American Indian.
The school was investigated by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in the late 1990s. Among other things, investigators found too many Indian students were sent to in-school suspension for periods of time. They were disproportionately sent to special education classes. The school agreed to make a number of changes in how American Indian students are treated. But some parents say the changes haven't gone far enough.
Superintendent Boyd Bradbury came to Waubun schools after the civil rights investigation, but helped implement changes the school district agreed to make.
" We always attempt to uniformly apply our policies and procedures to all students in our district because we as an educational institution have an obligation to all students, not just one small segment, or the large segment, but to all students," said Bradbury.
Bradbury says he thinks the complaints about Waubun schools come from a small group of parents.
Some parents stepped forward to support the schools. Lisa McArthur says she and her husband are both American Indian. She says their children have been disciplined in the Waubun schools. But she supports the school district.
"If there's disciplinary problems, the school can't be the mother and father to every kid," Mcarthur said. "What has to happen is the kids have to know that at home you're going to get in trouble if you get in trouble at school. You gotta follow the rules."
McArthur says strong discipline is making Waubun schools a better place for kids to learn.
The parents who believe their children are not being given a fair chance to learn say they will press for an investigation.
The American Civil Liberties Union is investigating the complaints, and the parents say they're seeking help from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and the Minnesota Education Department.