FAIRBANKS - Conflicts with teachers at the Stevens Village school have prompted some parents to withdraw their children from classes.
The move comes after a tribal council meeting held last week to address concerns about the school and its teachers, Lee and Patricia Hayes, described by some as overly authoritative.
"The council and community members have agreed that the current teaching staff is unsuitable to meet the educational needs of the village," the council said in a statement issued after the meeting.
The council has forwarded written complaints to the Yukon Flats School District administration.
The rift in the Yukon River village of about 90 people 90 miles northwest of Fairbanks has caught the attention of the state Department of Education and Early Development.
"The commissioner has been in contact with the superintendent and with others out there," Harry Gamble, a spokesman for the education department, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. "The superintendent and a board member are trying to fly out there as soon as possible and work with the community on this."
Residents' complaints are many, said Randy Mayo, tribal administrator and spokesman for the council.
"Some of the things I have seen personally is there is a high expulsion rate for the students for disciplinary problems," Mayo said. "Maybe the kids are acting out but just to kick them out constantly is not the answer."
He said that while some of the students may have attitude problems - one of the reasons he cited for the expulsions - the teachers do not show the students respect.
"What I have heard is kids being treated disrespectful and being called names like, 'you are stupid' and 'you are dumb' and 'you will never learn this,' " Mayo said.
Lee Hayes, who is the principal-teacher at the school, said he and his wife show all the students respect.
"Do you think someone who was in education would say that?" he asked. "We are trying to push them up rather than down. We would like some of these students to go to college."
Hayes agreed that some students have been expelled or suspended, but he said with good cause.
"Assault is not trivial to me. Threatening a teacher is not trivial to me. Destruction of school property is not trivial," he said.
Hayes said he has invited local residents to come into the school and has asked parents to talk to him about their concerns.
"I sent out a response to their concerns and I haven't had one person respond yet," he said.
Dewey Schwalenberg, the director of the village's natural resource and environmental program, said he has offered to work with the Hayeses on a program to provide on-the-job training for local youths.
"The main experience I have is lack of cooperation," he said. "The teachers want to do the bare minimum that they have to do."
Schwalenberg called the teachers' attitude condescending and militaristic.
Hayes said he has been teaching in rural schools for 15 years and his wife has done so for 17.
"We are probably some of the most culturally sensitive teachers you have ever run into," he said.
However he said his ability to educate the children depends on the children having or being taught self-discipline.
"Education is coming to school and sitting down and being self-disciplined and learning," Hayes said.
Mayo said Stevens Village isn't the only community to have problems with the Hayeses.
"These teachers have been bumped from school to school within the school district for I don't know how long," Mayo said.
Gideon James, who works for the tribal government in Arctic Village, said the community there had complaints similar to those being aired in Stevens Village.
"A lot of our students even got a grade behind because of that (the Hayeses)," he said. "They didn't want to go to school and they missed out on a whole year of their schooling."
Hayes said conflicts like the one in Stevens Village are common when you teach in rural Alaska.
"It is no different than any other village I have been in," he said. "The villages are highly volatile. Things from one moment to the next can change dramatically."