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RCAS, Dept. of Education enter resolution after discrimination investigation

A resolution ends a long-term investigation into the Rapid City Area School district orbiting claims of discrimination toward Native students.

Some of the findings, published this week, are 14 years in the making.

Beginning in December of 2010, the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights started looking closely at the districts disciplinary record toward Native students. The investigation found Native students were disciplined more harshly than white counterparts.

Superintendent Nicole Swigart said the district has been complying with the Department of Education’s investigation for over a decade. She also said the district is already making efforts to address issues noted in the resolution.

“Since 2010 we have changed a ton of things including our attendance policy, our truancy referrals, our discipline matrix, we’ve added restorative justice, we’ve added conscious discipline – we’ve really worked at making sure all our staff is trained in that work,” Swigart said.

Swigart has a background as a title 1D principal and was not the superintendent in 2010 at the onset of the investigation. Title 1D is a Department of Education program focused on at risk youth.

“I’ve always said a kid could walk out the door 18 times and get dropped for non-attendance, but that 19th time might be the time they’re going to be successful," Swigart said. "We’ve really worked at re-enrolling kids. When they come back, we’re going to re-enroll them. We are not a push-out program, we are a pull-in program.”

RCAS has the highest demographic of Native students out of any district in the state except those on reservations. As a result, Swigart said ensuring Native students and parents feel seen is critical to the districts’ mission.

“I’ve really had an open-door policy for Native American issues – let’s sit down, what can we do together? I’ve gone down when a parent feels a situation at a building wasn’t handled correctly," Swigart said. "I’ve met with them outside the school or outside of my office because I don’t want it to be an intimidating conversation. I want to hear what they have to say.”

Year-over-year, the district reports a significant increase in the rate of Native students graduating, though Swigart said she wants to see that number climb further.

You can find a link to the full resolution here.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture