Huntsville City Schools and The Pinnacle School, Teepees and Racism

Once upon a time, non-immigrant kids were snatched from their families’ teepees and sent across country to Pennsylvania to attend the Carlisle Indian School. Now thedescendents of these nations’ exterminators are sent by their own parents at considerable expense (or in Huntsville, Alabama, by the City Schools superintendent) to live in teepees.

It’s June 22, 2012, and that means as of today Huntsville taxpayers have spent $130,500 ($750 a day) to reserve 5 teepees at the Pinnacle Schools’ Elk River Treatment Programs as part of its $778,000 contract with the private school.

Yes, it’s summer but the Pinnacle contract is for the calendar year. Somehow, under some authority I can’t begin to imagine, Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Col. Casey Wardynski has the power to send problem kids selected solely by himself to this wilderness camp/mental hospital/boarding school/detention center.

I suppose the Board believes that however he is managing this must be legal, perhaps using the same reasoning that Board member Jennie Robinson applied when queried about State mandates for Special Education: HCS must be “meeting the requirements of the IEPs [individualized education plans] because the system isn’t being sued.

A prediction: one day everyone in Huntsville, Alabama will be talking about how in the hell this happened.

And it’s not that I believe that all kids are angels. If it were legal to do so, I’d happily name one 16-year-old whose one-way airfare to Guamtanomo Bay I would gladly pay — but only after due process and a fair trial (this is a fantasy–obviously).

Now no one even seems to wonder why the Pinnacle contract began in January 2012, although its stated purpose was to replace the Seldon Center, which would close at the end of the academic year, i.e., May 2012. Duplication of services is rarely fiscally responsible, but I expect one of the administrators at Merts has figured out a new math that makes it so in this case.

Back to Wardynski’s obvious delight that the detainees at Pinnacle’s Elk River outpost live in teepees.

So easy are most Americans with the genocide of nations whose lands their ancestors wanted that they don’t even notice how nasty this choice of housing is.

Who lived in teepees? Savages. In cabins? The “civilized” people.

Consider this statement on the Elk River Treatment Programs homepage:

“Elk River programs are outdoor-based, but with indoor facilities such as a gymnasium, cafeteria with commercial kitchen, two shower houses, laundry facility, cabins for advanced students, and a large school house with a storm shelter.”

Same old thing in brand new drag.

Civilizing the savages: these behavior modification wilderness programs are like a weird inversion of the turn of the century Bureau of Indian Affairs’ boarding schools, with the most widely known troubling case being the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania (1879-1918). Through means like withholding a tribe’s rations and against their families’ wishes (in the case of Hopi, men went to Alcatraz prison rather than surrender kids), Indian children were transported thousands of miles away from home (as far as Alaska) to be “educated.” It was finally closed by an act of Congress following hearings and investigations into all manner of abusive behavior.

Here is described the mindset of its founder, Col. Richard Henry Pratt:

“In 1879, Pratt founded the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, which he ruled with an iron hand, his stated philosophy being “Kill the Indian and save the man.” Carlisle, and the Indian boarding schools which followed, were set up to break spirits, to destroy traditional extended families and cultures, to obliterate memories and languages, and especially to make the children deny their Indianness, inside and out.”

Library of Congress Description : “Educating the Indians–a female pupil of the government school at Carlisle visits her home at Pine Ridge Agency”


10 thoughts on “Huntsville City Schools and The Pinnacle School, Teepees and Racism

    • The truth is that I have largely given up. If the Federal judge in the deseg suit couldn’t see something wrong here, if the Southern Poverty Law Center isn’t looking into it, what hope do I have, especially in a culture that has grown indifferent about throwing away the lives of many of its children?

      The other problem is simply built into the procedure. As I understand it, kids are withdrawn from HCS and enrolled in Pinnacle/Elk River. Pinnacle is privately owned and for-profit, and so the transparency that presumably is a hallmark of tax-supported public entities does not apply here (although it is tax supported).

      That’s an issue itself: for-profit prisons (and if you can’t come and go as you please or communicate with the outside world, you’re in some variety of prison, whatever the term used) lose money when all beds aren’t filled. There is thus very little or no incentive to keep kids from being hauled off for an indeterminate sentence to Elk River. In contrast, and another problem adults don’t face: if the kid was tried in a criminal court and sentenced to a detention center, there would be a sentence — , as well as due process. A defense attorney would be assigned. The kid could confront his accusers. The HCS website says that if parents give 24-hours notice, they can bring an attorney to the hearing (why the 24 hours? how much time normally elapses? Walk-ins aren’t usually welcomed in law offices. Why a different standard for those who can and can’t afford private attorneys?) See pages 25 and 26 of the Code of Conduct.

      Pinnacle/Elk River are not even mentioned, let alone described, on the HCS website. It thus serves strictly as means of punishment rather than as a deterrent. At the least, kids who have had suspensions and look to be on their way to expulsion need to spend a few hours observing the scene. Why not employ scared straight techniques — unless there is financial incentive to keep Pinnacle/Elk River at capacity.

      It’s hard to get people to consider the rights of kids who get into trouble at school. I’m not a softie or ignorant. I have family who have worked and do work in public schools and have been at risk daily for physical injury. Exmple 1: my mother suffered a bad displacement in an already arthritic knee breaking up a fight and a few years later had a knee replacement. I want kids who assault others out of the schools — and within the schools to be punished — as much as anyone does. But I also believe in due process and that there should be some correspondence between criminal punishments and those dictated by school personnel. Example 2: a case of domestic violence in which a 15 year old male beat his girlfriend senseless. Punishment: 6 months hardly monitored probation — never even had to stand in the corner. Bit different from 6 months in the teepees. If people can’t see something wrong here, there is nothing I can do to make them.

      Primarily, though, I want deterrence and prevention.

      At a minimum, kids need to know that being kicked out of the City schools does not mean they are free. If their parents don’t have the money and influence to get them into a private school or homeschooling situation, they are going to Pinnacle/Elk River. The first time they hear this should not be when the Superintendent and crew spring it on them.

      I think a lot of grief could be saved by lowering the school-leaving age back to 16, but that’s another issue.

  1. Coming from someone who was sent to elk river for 3 months.. It is a hell hole and messes kids up more than when they came in there! Waste of time and energy. Over half the staff would come to work looking like they were on some kind of drug! And I went when the lee brothers worked there and they defiantly looked high all the time.

    • One of the Lee brothers was arrested and served time for Drug trafficking and is back at work at a rehab? Now as of today, Mrs. Lee will be marrying Wardinsky, does something smell fishy here?

  2. As someone who went to elk river, I can say that it definitely had a lasting impact on me. I was there for 6 months, sometimes having to sleep on the deck with a tarp over my head, rain leaking in and pouring all over my sleeping bag. It was miserable to say the least, but at the same time, I did manage to learn somethings. But nowadays since they signed that contract, it’s a lot more lenient, everyone gets away with much more. I remember having to haul logs with 4 one gallon milk jugs around my hands, now, one of these is considered “cruel”. I thought you my have found this interesting.

  3. Pingback: Why Teepees, Again. Reader’s Comment. And How Come the Supe Can Send Bad Kids to the Teepees and I Can’t? | Merts Center Monitor

  4. I hope you never are in need of the services offered through Elk River. I hope you never have to search for a place to help you with your child. Have you even tried to find out what goes on at Elk River. To call something racist because it has teepees — really. If you want to complain how much this facility cost the school system that is ok. Please post research on the impact of Elk River on the kids that have attended the school. Use facts to make your point. I can assure you there are many races attending Elk River and they all live in the same type facility. Make this a real story, talk about the price to tax payers but please leave out the racist comments. Also, show the cost of saving a child. Then explain how much is too much to save a child!

    • On the racism issue: not all racism is black/white. I expect there are both black and white kids at Elk. I doubt if there are any native Americans, or Indians, as they prefer to still be called if you lump all nations together. As a people we are so used to stereotyping and simply not thinking about these people that we accept that contrasting those who live in teepees as less advanced and those who live in cabins as more advanced is just fine.

      I became aware of Pinnacle and Elk River before the Huntsville City Schools contracted with them because I was looking for alternative schooling for my daughter who has had a very difficult recovery physically and mentally from a vicious assault last fall, so yeah, I do know what it is like.

      As a parent, you have the right and responsibility to do what is best for your child. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that from 8 to 5 M-F Elk River is a fine place for kids who need it to be. But what scares me about these places is who is staffing them from 5 pm Friday to 8 am Monday. You don’t know and I don’t know — and that scares me. It scares me that the kids there cannot communicate with the outside world if they are treated unjustly or abusively by a frustrated and poorly prepared relief staffer. It scares me that if they do try to stand up for themselves, then they may well find their stay lengthened for poor attitude, etc.

      It seems wrong to me that if the child is over 14, he must sign the papers for a voluntary commitment — but then he is not free to sign himself out later. I think these places should have independent advocates for the kids — folks not working for the facility or for the parents, but for the kids.

      To tell our kids not to accept rides from strangers, and then to leave them in the 24/7 custody of strangers — that scares me.

      But what parents do is their business, and we can agree to disagree on the risks/benefits of these programs.

      However, it scares the hell out of me that the Superintendent of a school system can at his sole discretion send kids away for an indefinite period to anyplace at all. The counter-argument is that the kids and parents are given the option of accepting expulsion instead. In that position, I’d say, fine, expel my kid, and then I’d get him to work on getting his GED.

      I don’t care if the public is paying $1.00 or $10,000 for each kid at any facility like this. I simply don’t think that at any cost a kid should be sent away at one man’s sole discretion for an indefinite stay at a place he is not free to leave, where his parents are not free to visit at any time, where he can’t use a phone, and so on, and that this should happen without due legal process.

    • “I hope you never are in need of the services offered through Elk River. I hope you never have to search for a place to help you with your child.”

      There is a difference in sending your child to Elk River and someone else sending your child to Elk River.

      • Thank you, Redeye, you got to the gist in a flash. We could debate the wisdom of the parent sending the child, but I understand desperation. The supe and the parent have different motives altogether. Therapy is not punishment.

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