The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights has opened an investigation into claims that the Wolf Point school district discriminates against and mistreats Native American students.

Spokeswoman and attorney Melina Healey in New York City said this investigation has been a long time in the planning stages.

“I’ve been working with the tribes for about eight years on this issue, actually,” said Healey. “I first visited with a number of families in 2011 who were very concerned with their treatment in the school district, but the complaint grew out of an analysis of the statistical evidence that the Wolf Point school district is unfairly treating native students, in addition to many dozens of anecdotes and stories from individual students and families.”

Healey provided some details from the students and families involved.

“There was one instance where two young native women were kicked off the basketball team because they had babies, and then the following season a white student with babies was allowed to play on the team,” she said. “We think that’s pretty clear evidence of preferential treatment. Native students are twice as likely to receive in and out of school suspensions as are white students. Native students are far less likely to be included in advanced placement classes as white students.”

Healey went on to describe one instance in which lives were lost that the complaint suggests were part of the same treatment.

“In our estimation, the school contributed to a number of instances of self harm by Native students who were very clearly in need of special education and support services, sending them home unaccompanied and restricting their access to school activities, and a number of those students went on to commit suicide.”

According to the press release, the repercussions for the school district could be severe.

‘The federal investigation could have a variety of outcomes, including facilitated resolution between the school district and Native families or a written agreement identifying the actions the district will take to comply with anti-discrimination laws. If unlawful discrimination is uncovered and school officials do not agree to remedial efforts, the DOE may initiate administrative proceedings against the school district or refer claims to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for further investigation and potential litigation.’

Healey said she was hopeful that school officials and the DEA can work together to remedy the situation at the Wolf Point School District located on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.