ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque Public Schools is moving forward with promised remedies after a racially charged incident at Cibola High School stirred outcries and protests late last year.
An English teacher at Cibola High School, identified by students as Mary Eastin, was accused of calling Navajo student McKenzie Johnson a “bloody Indian” and snipping the end of another Native American girl’s braid during a class on Oct. 31.
Following what has been called an act of racism and cultural assault, Superintendent Raquel Reedy told the Board of Education on Wednesday night that the district is moving forward with cultural sensitivity training and adding more Native-centric curricula – two major demands from the community.
Last year, district officials said Eastin’s behavior was part of a “Halloween stunt” since she was in costume and acting like a book character. The English teacher later resigned.
Still, Johnson and her family, the president of the Navajo Nation and the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union called for changes in APS to prevent incidents in the future.
Reedy said APS has talked with Harvard University, the New Mexico Public Education Department and Native American faculty at the University of New Mexico, among other entities, to draft a solution.
Now, APS will implement new curriculum from the PED, train staff on cultural competency and purchase culturally relevant textbooks.
“I’m very proud of the work we are doing,” Reedy said. “We are committed to this and will continue to work on this.”
Madelyn Serna Marmol, assistant superintendent of equity, instruction and support, has been working on the APS changes. She said APS will start teaching more Native American history via a curriculum developed by the PED, which has been vetted by all tribes in the state. Social studies teachers will be trained on it at the end of May.
The lessons are supplemental to current teachings in place, explained Serna Marmol.
“What’s so good about this curriculum is it’s not in place of a social studies subject, but adapts and will be supplemental,” she said.
For instance, when history classes learn about a specific time period, this curriculum will also add Native history and narratives from that chapter in history.
And the district is working on a cultural sensitivity training from PED, too.
“We are developing cultural competency for APS faculty about the harms of racism,” Reedy said.
Serna Marmol explained PED will train APS leadership first, then the district will work on a plan to train principals and teachers.
Since the training and lesson plans are coming from the state, it’s not expected to cost APS any money, Serna Marmol said.
There is also work being done specifically at Cibola.
Serna Marmol told the Journal that staff has been conducting interviews to assess the climate at Cibola and an assembly is scheduled on Feb. 5 to address student safety.
These initiatives come after reports that Cibola had become a contentious place since Halloween, with some students supporting the girls at the center of the incident and others standing in solidarity with the teacher.
In addition, a Native American community forum will be held next Thursday at Paradise Hills Community Center near Cibola. Starting at 5 p.m., the forum will include an update on APS efforts and community members will be able to talk about other needs they see in the district.
This is one of several forums planned around the city, Serna Marmol said.
Other changes at APS include a task force created to get more culturally relevant textbooks and pueblo feast days added to the district calendar.
Wednesday night’s meeting was a far cry from a heated Board of Education meeting last month.
Many public forum speakers – Johnson’s family, APS students and others from the indigenous community – chided Eastin’s actions and pushed APS to do more than issue an apology.
Verbal brawls ensued as speakers pushed back on two mothers speaking in support of Eastin, profanities flying in the boardroom.
And many in the audience said the district was taking too long to make changes.