August 13, 2020

Udall: Trump Administration Playing Politics with Native Students’ Lives During Pandemic


For Immediate Release

August 13, 2020

Contact: Ned Adriance

202.228.6870 || @SenatorTomUdall


Udall: Trump Administration Playing Politics with Native Students’ Lives During Pandemic


Udall has repeatedly pressed for answers on Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) reopening plans, safety measures, and ability to provide distance learning to students


WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, released the following statement on reports regarding the Bureau of Indian Education’s plan to resume in-person learning in September without adequate notice or input from schools, parents and Tribes: 


“The Trump administration is playing politics with the lives and education of Native students and teachers. The administration has apparently made the cruel calculus that scoring political points is more important than looking out for the health and safety of Native communities, or for respecting Tribal sovereignty. The Trump administration continues to show that it wants to pretend like there isn’t a pandemic raging on in this nation – a pandemic that this administration has horribly mismanaged, threatening all Americans.


“Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration has failed Native students. They have refused to answer my direct questions about whether BIE schools are able to offer safe and effective distance learning, and what they are doing to address the digital divide that leaves Native students behind. And now, they are apparently rushing a poorly-considered, poorly-communicated re-opening plan that could put the health of Native students and teachers at risk. I am deeply disturbed by reports that some Tribal schools in New Mexico aren’t even aware that BIE has issued this plan in the first place, while others believe that BIE is dismissing their valid concerns about resuming in-person instruction.


“Any decision to reopen Bureau of Indian Education school campuses must be made based on the health and safety of students, teachers and families. The administration should not push top-down mandates that ignore local COVID-19 transmission and infections rates; public health orders and guidance; and Tribal governments’ preferences – to do so would endanger whole communities and show a callous disregard for Native lives. The federal government must listen to Tribal governments and Native communities when making critical decisions that affect Native public health and safety.”


Udall helped secure more than $222 million in COVID-19 relief funding for the BIE in the CARES Act and has led oversight efforts to hold the Bureau accountable for delays and missteps in its response to the coronavirus pandemic.


Last month, Udall pressed BIE Director Tony Dearman about the Bureau’s “shameful” COVID-19 response at a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs oversight hearing and sent a letter to the Departments of Interior, Education, and Health and Human Services asking the Administration to detail its efforts to support delivery of mental health and other support services to Native students.


In June, Udall and U.S. Senator Patty Murray, ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, sent a letter to the Secretaries of the Interior and Education demanding they explain protracted delays in release of CARES Act funds to BIE schools and what efforts their Departments were taking to address barriers to distance learning.


In April, Udall led a group of 18 senators and 12 U.S. representatives in writing a letter to President Donald J. Trump requesting that federal agencies, including the BIE, implement the Tribal provisions of the CARES Act in a manner that upholds the federal trust and treaty responsibilities to Indian Tribes, respects Tribal sovereignty, and provides for meaningful government-to-government consultation with Indian Tribes.