Gas leaks, elevated carbon monoxide levels, and broken fire alarms are among the hazards plaguing some schools run by the Bureau of Indian Education, a report by federal watchdogs found.
“It’s just not how we should be treating this vulnerable population,” said Melissa Emrey-Arras, a director of the Government Accountability Office who testified before Congress about the issue on Wednesday.
The Bureau of Indian Education oversees about 180 schools, including some boarding schools, in 23 states.
The report noted some worrisome issues: In one school, seven boilers — four of which were located in a dormitory — failed inspections due to a variety of issues, including elevated levels of carbon monoxide and a gas leak. The school continued to use the boilers for eight months before repairing them because there was no backup system and nowhere else to house the students.
The GAO also noted that many problems may be undetected because 38 percent of Indian schools were not inspected in fiscal year 2015, up from 31 percent in 2012. Some schools have not been inspected since 2008.
As a result, “Indian Affairs cannot effectively determine the magnitude and severity of safety and health deficiencies at schools, and is, thus, unable to prioritize deficiencies that pose the greatest danger to students and staff,” the report concludes.
Of the inspections conducted, not all were of the same quality. One of the inspections was conducted by an individual who never left his car, Emrey-Arras said. “He never went into the 34 buildings at the location. And yet he did an inspection report, not surprisingly not finding anything on the interior that needed to be addressed,” she said.
The GAO made two major recommendations: Ensure that all schools undergo annual health and safety inspections, and make sure those inspections are high quality.
In a letter accompanying the report, Lawrence Roberts, acting assistant secretary for Indian Affairs, said department staff “generally” agree with the findings.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs was not immediately available for comment.