Havasupai Tribe Wins Landmark Victory in Education Rights Suit

Munger, Tolles & Olson represented students from Havasupai Elementary School, their parents, and the Native American Disability Law Center in obtaining a landmark federal court ruling that schools run by the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) must address the mental- health and wellness needs of all students.

In his March 26, 2018 decision, U.S. District Judge Steven P. Logan denied the BIE’s motion to dismiss our lawsuit, ruling for the first time in the nation that the federal government is obligated to meet the mental-health and wellness needs of Native American students. The court agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that there is a correlation between learning disabilities and generational trauma related to the contentious history between the U.S. government and Native Americans.

“As this ruling recognizes, the federal government is on notice and has long been aware of the urgent need to address the effects that trauma and adversity have on Havasupai students,” Munger, Tolles & Olson attorney Emily Curran-Huberty said. “The federal government has the legal obligation to ensure that all Havasupai children have meaningful access to public education.”

The complaint, filed in January 2017, alleges that the Havasupai school is frequently understaffed, lacks adequate textbooks, does not have a functional library or any extracurricular activities, all to the detriment of the students’ educational potential.  It further alleges that the school lacks a system for special education or adequate support for children suffering from complex trauma and adversity, including physical and sexual violence, extreme poverty, alcohol and substance abuse, and denial of access to education. 

The firm is co-counsel with Public Counsel, the Native American Disability Law Center, the ACLU of New Mexico and Sacks Tierney P.A., of Phoenix, Arizona.

The Munger, Tolles & Olson team includes Bradley S. Phillips, Bryan H. Heckenlively and Emily C. Curran-Huberty