Unruly school board meeting causes lockdown in Greasewood

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

GREASEWOOD SPRINGS, Ariz., April 18, 2013

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A school board meeting degenerated into a yelling match between rival parent groups here Friday, prompting security guards to lock down Greasewood Springs Community School from about 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Two women said they were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. No one answered the phone at the Dilkon Police District Wednesday morning to confirm or deny the arrests.

Genevieve Yelloweyes, vice president of the Parent Advisory Committee, and Henrietta Chee, who currently has no children in the school, said Monday the meeting deteriorated into a shouting match when Yelloweyes was denied a chance to speak.

Yelloweyes said she wanted to challenge Principal Jeannie Lewis' assertion that parents were planning to protest what they say are abuses by the school's administration by pulling their children out of school during AIMS testing week (this week).

Edith Nez, a grandparent of a student, said Yelloweyes had to raise her voice to be heard above the gaveling of the school board president.

According to Chee and Yelloweyes, another group of parents started yelling at them and one of them hit Yelloweyes in the shoulder. The school board and Lewis left the room and securities locked down the building, not allowing parents in or students out.

A security guard at the entrance to the school grounds Monday confirmed the basics of the women's story.

"Tempers were flaring and we felt like we needed to lock down the school for the safety of everyone," he said.

Yelloweyes said the security guards and assisting Navajo County sheriff's deputies "held my children hostage" for two hours while they waited for Navajo Nation police to come and arrest her.

"All for trying to speak up, and being hit," she said.

Yelloweyes said she and some other parents were upset that the school board had renewed Lewis' contract after they had produced evidence she had a criminal record.

She also said they didn't like the way the school was being run, citing such diverse complaints as wrestling team members being forced to run in the cold without sufficient clothing and outstanding students not being sufficiently recognized.

Yelloweyes and Chee said they had not planned an AIMS week protest, but Yelloweyes did pull her children from the school Monday morning, saying they did not feel safe at the school.

Lewis said Monday some 15 children were absent, but she couldn't say whether it was an organized protest or just coincidence.

At any rate, she said, it wasn't enough to affect the school's AIMS scores.

At the board meeting, "I was just telling them (parents) that keeping their students out of school during AIMS is only hurting their children," she said.

As for her alleged criminal record, Lewis does have a documented misdemeanor assault charge out of Clark County, Nev. from last Dec. 12.

"I'm not going to respond to that," she said, "other than to say the previous school board (who hired her) was aware of it."

The parents also brought up an alleged late summer domestic disturbance at the teacher housing supposed to have involved Lewis and five other staff and administrators.

"I don't know where they're getting that," Lewis said. "There's no police report on it. I wasn't even home at the time."

Lewis and the parents all said the school board suspended the alleged offenders while they investigated the incident.

"They couldn't find any evidence of it," Lewis said.

As of press time, Navajo Nation Police had not responded to a written request for police reports on the alleged incident.

Lewis said the majority of the parents' complaints seem to be based on isolated incidents involving their own children.

"It's the kind of thing where they could just come to me and we could try to resolve it," she said, noting she has proactively called several meetings with the PAC to get a handle on the complaints to try to resolve the issues.

Lewis said she believes she is being targeted because of changes that had to be made, both academically and financially, in response to budget cuts and the school's failure to make adequate yearly progress for seven years.

Lewis said since she became principal a year ago last October, she has pressed for more student, teacher and parent accountability and closely monitored students' progress, which has improved in most areas.

"Change is difficult, and it takes time to educate the community," she said.

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