Launching a Tribal Satellite School Expansion Plan

Our Native American Law Group deployed swift advocacy and a complex strategy that changed the law and enabled a tribal government client to receive a special waiver so it could expand a tech-driven satellite school on its reservation, creating an innovative initiative that reduces costs and alleviates student transportation hardships.
Launching a Tribal Satellite School Expansion Plan

The Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe tribal government sought the assistance of Holland & Knight's Native American Law Practice Group when it was confronted with a dilemma – educational options on its reservation entailed a daily commute of approximately 80 miles each way for some of its students who lived in remote areas. To meet this challenge, the tribe needed swift advocacy and an effective strategy to overcome a longstanding ban in the federal statutes against school expansion. Nay Ah Shing, the Band's main school, is a federal Bureau of Indian Education-supported school and provides K-12 education. However, some of its students had to endure bus rides of more than three hours per day to go to and from Nay Ah Shing. Tribal leadership called on our Native American law attorneys to help them work with the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) to waive the federal ban against expansion and link remotely located reservation classrooms to the BIE-funded Nay Ah Shing school by high-definition video technology.

Holland & Knight's Native American Law Practice Group helped the tribe prepare a specific and narrow request for waiver and lobbied to gain the support of key House members, Senators and Administration officials. As a result, the fiscal year 2015 Interior and Related Agencies appropriations act and report included language that gave the BIE authority to waive such bans where satellite classroom expansion can alleviate extensive costs and transportation hardships.

Having secured the authority for a waiver, the tribe set about the task of persuading the BIE to grant a waiver. Holland & Knight worked closely with the tribe's educational specialists to prepare a fully documented waiver request and video-based instructional plan that links together remotely located classrooms in real time. Holland & Knight helped the tribe show that approval of its waiver request would be cost-neutral because bus transportation expenditures would be redirected to satellite classroom instruction.

In June, 2015, the BIE informed the tribe that its waiver request was granted for the 2015-2016 school year. The addition of the tribe's Pine Grove Satellite Learning Center as a satellite location of the Nay Ah Shing school will allow Pine Grove to provide equally enriching education along with state-of-the-art learning tools, language and culturally focused programs in three local community classrooms. The two schools will share instructors, best practices and educational programs via high-speed broadband lines, high-definition cameras and large-format video screens. Collaboration among teachers, instructional protocols and innovative teaching methodologies will be enhanced by this expansion. Plus, there is an inestimable educational benefit produced by keeping students off of long daily bus rides.

Building on the vision of the tribe's leaders and their well-documented proposal for boosting classroom outcomes, our Native American law advocacy helped ensure that the tribe's innovative technology-based satellite plan was approved quickly, in record time. The firm's assistance in developing a strategically justified argument and a compelling narrative, and its success at securing a waiver after changing the law as a result of its outreach efforts with members of Congress and the BIE, clearly made the difference that enabled the tribe to achieve its goal in less than 18 months.

Holland & Knight's commitment to providing first-rate tribal advocacy and sophisticated and effective strategic counsel enables tribal clients to access vital educational resources. Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe's objective of being a leader in culturally relevant, tech-driven learning for students in remote areas was a perfect match for Holland & Knight's shared values, vision and skill set.