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College Responds to Charter School Article from Madison

Dear LCO Tribal Members and Constituents:


First, we want to thank all of those who have given us the time we needed to get to the bottom of this before we put our statement together. For those who have supported us, we appreciate you.


Ruth Conniff, Editor-in-Chief of the Wisconsin Examiner online media outlet chose to write a misleading, derogatory and inflammatory article regarding the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe College’s (LCOOC) authorization of the Lake Country Classical Academy (LCCA) charter school. She intentionally expounded on the School’s curriculum choice as provided by Hillsdale College. She drew a strong connection between the LCOOC, the Academy, and Hillsdale College that does not exist. Further, she made an intentional connection between all parties and former U.S. President Donald Trump and the Make America Great Again slogan. This false representation of LCOOC’s role with these other two entities and political ideology has caused our Ojibwe College to come under attack and strong misplaced criticism because of her mischaracterization of our role as an independent charter school authorizer.


LCOOC leadership strongly cautions readers to be highly critical of the Wisconsin Examiners article content. The College strongly asserts sovereignty in our role as a Wisconsin independent charter school authorizer that is chartered under the great Ojibwe Nation of Lac Courte Oreilles and its people. Additionally, Ms. Conniff’s words have caused division among our people and considerable negative impacts to our reputation and image. Her words travel considerable distances. She harshly and unfairly criticizes the College’s choice to authorize the Academy without the forethought and favorable consideration of people that will be detrimentally affected by her choice to publish.


Our College Leadership engaged in a vetting process before deciding to authorize LCCA. At no time, did the College discover information about LCCA or Hillsdale College that caused it to be concerned. College Leadership did not discover a connection with the Trump platform at any time. The College does not support any political group, opinion, position, or belief. The choice to authorize simply comes down to educational sovereignty and a parent’s choice to educate their child(ren) where they choose.


The College chose not to participate in an interview with Ms. Conniff because Leadership immediately recognized they were being asked to become involved in a polarized political situation. Readers can see for themselves that Ms. Conniff made a conscious choice to continue with the article according to her pre-existing beliefs. The College educates people, it does not exist to perpetuate one view over another. The article’s title and content suggest that the Academy is being used as a tool of the Trump administration.


Historical Perspective on the Tribal School Initiative


Wisconsin Tribal Leaders worked collaboratively for approximately seventeen years to give our tribes the ability to charter schools. This dream and vision for Tribes existed long before Mr. Trump was elected. LCOOC’s long-standing philosophy includes an open-door policy, not racism and inequality as inaccurately portrayed in the article. LCOOC is a non-profit, mission driven organization that is proud to serve Native American students. It welcomes non-native students and people that choose to seek an education from an Ojibwe College. LCOOC does this to create an avenue for understanding and cultural exchange among all people across the areas we serve. As an example, all LCOOC students are required to take a course in Ojibwe Culture to increase understanding and create an enriched environment of learning. Geography does not limit learning opportunities and Native American values, history and culture and should not be restricted to the reservation as the Article suggests. All other Wisconsin Authorizers can move freely within the States borders. Why should tribes have to stay on the reservation? This thought can create an image for readers or decision-makers that somehow tribal colleges are inferior to their counterparts in higher education or that our work should be contained within the reservation and limited to tribal members.

Value alignment


LCOOC and LCCA values align with virtues like honesty, wisdom, and truth. We don’t necessarily agree philosophically or in educational delivery. However, we do support parents and communities right to choice. LCOOC, when considering whether to authorize, encouraged LCCA to offer curriculum that focuses on Native Americans with an emphasis on Ojibwe people. LCCA is willingly and excitedly engaged in the process of enhancing its curriculum with Native American content approved and delivered by real Native Americans. LCCA has expressed their desire to not only expand the presence of learning about Native American culture and Ojibwe people; they want to go beyond our expectations.


LCOOC Charter of LCCA


LCOOC’s authorization of LCCA allows us to teach more students about us beyond our reservation boundaries. As an authorizer, we can choose to end their authority at any time. LCCA has not given the College any reason to question their genuine plans to perform under contract terms or enhance their curriculum. College Leaders created an opportunity for Ojibwe history, culture, and language to be taught to LCCA students who are not aware of commonalities, differences, and shared values between native and non-native peoples. This is an opportunity for Ojibwe people to show the world that political polarization does not have a place in education. There is an intentional willingness between both parties to purposefully cross those lines and become a role model for others. LCCA is an avenue to share our own story with non-native students and non-native students benefit from learning accurate history of the Ojibwe. Once again, both organizations support educational sovereignty for all students.


Act 31 and Tribal Education in Public Schools


The article argues that state statutes are in place that require public education to include information on tribal sovereignty, history, and culture of Wisconsin’s tribes. That isn’t enough. Immersive studies in native language, culture and traditions taught from the native perspective are important to our tribal members. Educators have historically done an incredibly poor job of educating the larger community on native issues. This lack of education causes people to misinterpret our people and can increase gaps in understanding or cooperation between populations.


Proposed Legislation to End Discrimination in Funding and Capacity


Perhaps the article was written as a response to proposed legislation that equalizes the amount of funding tribal chartered schools receive as compared to all other Wisconsin Independent Authorizers. Tribal-charter schools have been reimbursed at a lower rate than schools chartered by independent non-tribal organizations. LCOOC is grateful for AB 420, which ends discrimination and increases the amount of funding from $8,719 per student to $9,165 per student, the amount received by all other non-tribal independent charter school authorizers. LCOOC also supports AB 721 which would end the current cap of 6 on the number of schools allowed for tribal entities. Non-tribal independent charter school authorizers currently have no limits on the number of schools they can authorize. These disparities were discovered by LCOOC Leadership and moved through the legal channels with support from LCO Tribal Governing Board Leadership, for which the College is grateful.

Negative and Inaccurate Reporting


The College views this moment in its 40-year history as a huge opportunity for growth and coming together in unity. The College acknowledges the questions, viewpoints, and frustration in lack of communication as expressed by some on social media.


The College wants to say once again that it made a conscious and deliberate choice to stay out of the politics and not feed into the negativity that so often tears tribal people apart and divides. This negative energy was purposely fed from the outside into our sovereign boundaries and started a fire.


The College hopes that each of you will share the College’s desire to use this opportunity to build a stronger tribal community. We’ve been through so much in our history. Let’s choose to unite against this foreign attack on our sovereignty and support our College for our future.


Our Tribal people are literally dying as we debate this issue and put our energy toward negativity we didn’t ask for. We need to spend our precious time securing our future. Let others say what they feel they need to say. We can choose not to be a part of their negativity.


Inaccuracies


There are many inaccuracies throughout the article, the major items of note are:

  • “about as far away from Ojibwe land and tribal members as you can get without leaving Wisconsin.”

  • Tribal members live throughout the state of Wisconsin, the United States of America, as well as internationally.

  • This quote insinuates that the charter authority should contain its charter activities to the reservation and serve only tribal members.

  • The legislation does not stipulate this.


  • “Hillsdale College…deep ties to the Trump administration”

  • LCOOC has no relationship or intended connection to the Hillsdale College.

  • LCOOC does not authorize Hillsdale College, we have no relationship with Hillsdale College formal or informal.


  • “a direct challenge to The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, which explored how racism and inequality shaped the founding of the country.”

  • Racism and inequality are the very thing this article is perpetuating by encouraging conflict among community members and legislators that attempts to set fire to both a charter school and legislation seeking to address these very issues.


  • “backdoor way to divert tax dollars from public schools”

  • 100% of the funds to support education in the state of Wisconsin supports 100% of the students in the state of Wisconsin. It’s about educational sovereignty of parents and communities.


  • “politicking with some of the state’s most vulnerable kids in order to advance a political project or agenda.”

  • The fact is that every child is vulnerable and should be at the top of everyone’s agenda. Between pandemic mental health issues, teen suicide and childhood hunger, every parent has the right to choose what’s best for their child’s health, education and wellbeing based on their family values. Charter schools gives that parental choice.


  • “Others see something peculiar about the tribe’s sponsorship of a school curriculum that appears to whitewash history.”

  • The authorizer had specific questions about this aspect of the school’s proposed curriculum during the school’s application process which LCCA responded to with the openness to guidance from LCOOC on incorporating resources that would alleviate the authorizer’s concerns. American Indian Studies in Wisconsin (often referred as Wisconsin Act 31) refers to the requirement that all public school districts and pre-service education program provide instruction on the history, culture, and tribal sovereignty of Wisconsin’s eleven federally-recognized American Indian nations and tribal communities. LCCA has made a commitment to go above and beyond the requirements of this Act by actively engaging and incorporating Ojibwe speakers, teachers, and resources into its curriculum.


  • “Swagger did not return multiple emails and phone calls seeking comment for this story.”

  • It was evident that the request for communication was coming from a political standpoint and leadership did not have faith that any response would be accurately represented.


  • “The tribal college received an implementation grant for the school from the state in June of $750,625.”

  • LCCA received the entire amount of the implementation grant.

  • LCOOC did not receive any portion of this grant.

  • LCOOC’s only true involvement with the grant is in the fact that we were required to sign a piece of paper acknowledging our authorization of LCCA. Our signature of evidence on this grant application enabled LCCA to qualify for these funds.


  • Opportunity

  • For LCCA the opportunity is about choice.

  • For LCOOC the opportunity is to expand our mission to non-native populations and have the potential to influence curriculum in an area that is expected to positively impact future generations.


  • “It had nothing to do with their community or values, it was about the 3%”

  • This statement insinuates that LCOOC Charter Authority is in this for the money. But for LCOOC this is an opportunity to influence curriculum to accurately represent Ojibwe history, culture, and values.

  • Creating options for parents on how their children are educated.


Board of Regents Meetings


LCOOC has monthly Board of Regents meetings. The dates are published on our Website. There is always a place on our agenda for public input and our meetings are open to the public. You can peruse the minutes on the website, and you can see that the College does make the public aware through this means and other forums about what is happening. The College strives consistently to be as transparent as is feasible.


The College plans to use this moment to lead us all to a better understanding of each other and a more accurate sharing of information in media and in the classroom.