December 22, 2023

Siletz Valley Principal Fired Over Treatment of Indigenous Students

Students, families and teachers filed seven complaints against the principal at a majority-Indigenous school. But the school board didn’t investigate, until Underscore News wrote about the complaints. Last week, the board announced her termination.

By

Underscore News + ICT

In October, the Siletz Valley School Board launched an investigation of the principal and superintendent, Casey Jackson, following seven formal complaints.

At a meeting on Dec. 14, the board announced its decision to fire principal Jackson.

“After a lot of tough conversations the decision was made by the board, to terminate Mrs. Jackson's employment from the Siletz Valley Schools,” Board Chair Willie Worman wrote in an email obtained by Underscore News. “This was not an easy decision. However, the board came to the conclusion that this is what would be best for our school, teachers, community and students going forward.”

The investigation of Jackson began after her reaction to a student protest on Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday, Oct. 9.

Students at Siletz Valley School, a majority Indigenous school just outside the Siletz Indian Reservation balked at a school policy requiring students to attend classes on a holiday celebrating Indigenous people. More than one quarter of the school’s students walked out in protest.

“I want people to understand what Indigenous Peoples’ Day is and why we felt so strong about it,” Zoey Howard, Siletz, a 16-year-old student who participated in the walkout told Underscore at the time. “It is a day of trauma. It’s meant to celebrate Indigenous people for what we’ve been through. And I want people to know that’s why we walked out.”

The following day, Jackson, who is not Indigenous, called students over the loudspeaker to a meeting, where she berated them for walking out. The students caught the interaction on a recording.

At a board meeting on Tuesday Oct. 24, students addressed the school board. The board made three major decisions. First, to honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day moving forward. Second, to observe Orange Shirt Day as a holiday with no classes. The day is a day of remembrance for survivors of boarding schools and their families.And lastly to place Jackson on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.

What’s next

Three months into the school year, the board is searching for an interim principal to finish out the year. In the email obtained by Underscore, Worman said the board decided to immediately reach out to the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators to start that process.

Until that time, vice principal Kent Rilatos, Siletz, will continue to fill in as principal, as he has since Jackson went on administrative leave.

The board is currently preparing for the likely possibility that Jackson could sue – allegedly over claims of discrimination.

“We more than half expect litigation,” Worman said. “I can confirm that we investigated the issues and decided to terminate Casey’s employment based on the fact that we determined the school can’t successfully move forward under her leadership.”

Lead image: Casey Jackson, superintendent and principal of Siletz Valley School, listens as the school board votes to place her on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into complaints filed against her. (Nika Bartoo-Smith, Underscore News/ICT)

Correction: In 2021, Biden issued the first-ever presidential proclamation of Indigenous Peoples Day but Indigenous peoples day is not a federal holiday. There is a bill in congress that could make it a federal holiday. More than 100 cities and states honor it as an official holiday.

About the author

Nika Bartoo-Smith

Nika is a journalist with a passion for working to provide platforms for the voices and experiences of communities often left behind in mainstream media coverage. Most recently, she worked as the health and social services reporter at The Columbian in Vancouver, Washington. Prior to working at The Columbian, Nika spent the summer of 2022, after graduating magna cum laude from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism, working as a Snowden Intern at The News-Review in Roseburg, Oregon. A descendant of the Osage and Oneida Nations, Nika was born and raised in Portland. Her favorite way to unwind is by trying a new recipe, curling up with a good book or taking a hike in one of the many green spaces around Portland.

Twitter: @BartooNika

Email: nbartoosmith@underscore.news

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