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Tensions remain high between Onondaga Nation and LaFayette School District

Tom Magnarelli
The Onondaga Nation Education Advisory Committee introduces itself to the LaFayette School Board.

Tensions are high between the Onondaga Nation and the LaFayette School District, which runs the Onondaga Nation pre-kindergarten to eighth grade school. The Onondaga Nation wants a bigger say in how the school operates.

Onondaga Nation parents removed their kids from the school two weeks before the end of classes in June to protest the district's choice for a new principal. Onondaga Nation officials wanted the district to pick a teacher at the school who is also a member of the nation. But the district decided to go with Warren Smith, an administrator in the Fayetteville-Manlius School District. Smith ultimately declined the position.

LaFayette Schools Superintendent Jeremy Belfield said the district is considering stepping aside and not renewing its contract with New York state to manage the Onondaga Nation School.

“I think there is a preference from the Onondaga Nation to make this relationship work," Belfield said. "From the district’s perspective, in order to make this relationship work, we really have to understand everyone’s role in the operation of the school.”

That means when it comes to hiring, Belfield said the decision rests with the district.

Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News
The LaFayette School Board with Superintendent Jeremy Belfield (center).

At a recent school board meeting, Belfield suggested a new interim principal, a retired administrator from the Homer Central School District, that he wants to run the Onondaga Nation School. The superintendent also wants to hire a new educational coordinator to act as a bridge between the district and the Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs.

The newly formed Onondaga Nation Education Advisory Committee introduced themselves to the board and expressed their concerns. But Awenheeyoh Powless said all their issues were not addressed.

“It doesn’t seem like we were really heard," Powless said. "It went in one ear and out the other.”

Powless said there was no collaboration or discussion with the Onondaga Nation about finding an interim principal.   

“This is just salt in the wound that is already wide open, having them tell us, that we’re putting in a new principal without you even knowing who is coming in, is just insulting,” Powless said. "We'll put in the suggestions, we'll give you the input but you're still not going to listen to us."

A final decision on the interim principal has not yet been made.