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Chamberlain grad, teacher says he was censored

CHAMBERLAIN -- A former Chamberlain student said he has been censored after being denied a request to further discuss the playing of an American Indian honor song at a public school board meeting.

James Cadwell, also a former teacher at Crow Creek Tribal School, is continuing his fight to include an honor song at Chamberlain's graduation to teach equality and include the American Indian culture. He said a recent change in the Chamberlain School Board's public input policy censors what the public can say during board meetings, and specifically censors discussions on the honor song.

"It's never going to be a dead issue, not for the public," Cadwell told The Daily Republic earlier this week. "We don't want more than anyone else, but we want to be treated equally."

Cadwell requested to be on the school board agenda for the April 14 meeting to discuss a letter of support he received regarding the honor song. The letter was written by The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, aka The King Center. He was placed on the agenda and spoke at the meeting, but regarding a different issue.

In February, the Chamberlain School Board approved policy revisions on public participation at board meetings. Chamberlain Superintendent Debra Johnson explained the new policy requires anyone who wants to be on the agenda to submit a request at least 48 hours prior to the board meeting. The person who wants to be on the agenda must identify themselves, give a phone number and identify the item they wish to discuss.

Johnson said in an interview with The Daily Republic earlier this week that the policy revisions were made so the board can be prepared for any items brought to a school board meeting.

"Since I have been here, when someone comes in and asks to be on the agenda, we've allowed them to," Johnson said. "The only time we haven't is when Mr. Cadwell came in."

She said if anyone requested to be on the board agenda to speak regarding the honor song, that request would have been denied.

Cadwell said the honor song is not a dead issue and he will keep fighting.

But Johnson said the board will no longer put the honor song issue on the agenda this school year, because a decision was made by the board not to include it during graduation. She said if the request is made in future school years, the board will decide whether it is placed on the agenda then.

She said the board decided in December to keep the graduation ceremony in its traditional format. She explained graduation typically does not allow special requests. Any deviation from its regular format -- for example, processional, band and choir performance, student and staff speakers, presenting diplomas, recessional -- needs board approval.

"The school board oversees graduation," Johnson said. "We've had requests in the past for certain speakers or to have something new read. Those have been denied."

However, she said, an honor song will be sung during the district's annual powwow at 6:30 p.m. today at the armory in Chamberlain. The senior class will also be honored with an honor song during an all-school assembly Wednesday at the high school and the song will be explained so everyone understands its meaning. A drum group from St. Joseph's Indian School will perform the honor song, Johnson said.

As for not allowing Cadwell to present on The King Center letter, Johnson said the board and district will take the letter under advisement, but will not schedule any other public comments regarding the honor song this academic year.

Cadwell attended Chamberlain schools as a child and retired recently from teaching at Crow Creek. His children attended Chamberlain schools and he now has a grandchild attending first grade in Chamberlain.

"I think it's important for our Native and our non-Native children to understand contributions Native Americans have made to the United States," Cadwell said. "And that they have a culture that's different."

Cadwell said his next step may be to file a civil complaint against the Chamberlain School District for not allowing him to speak at a public meeting regarding The King Center letter and its support for an honor song.