Native American Students’ Class Action Lawsuit Over GEAR UP Will Proceed

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A judge hearing the GEAR UP cases in South Dakota made an important ruling regarding the class action lawsuit filed on behalf of Native American students.

On Monday, Judge Bruce Anderson ruled that the class action lawsuit filed by two Native American students can move forward for now. The defendants in the case wanted it thrown out based on the fact that state officials say no GEAR UP money is missing. Plus they argued federal law prohibits such a lawsuit.

But Judge Anderson wants more information on both counts before making a decision.

You’ll remember our investigation revealed that although tens of millions of taxpayer dollars were spent on the GEAR UP program in South Dakota, there was no data to show that any Native American students actually went to college because of it.

Alyssa Black Bear and Kelsey Walking Eagle joined together to file the lawsuit because they say they want justice and restitution for as many as 6,600 Native American students.

Kelsey and her mother spoke with KELOLAND Investigates in 2015 about how GEAR UP promises were not kept. 

Kennecke: Increase the student and family knowledge of post-secondary education options, preparations and financing.

Walking Eagle: I received none. When you show me these things, GEAR UP was supposed to provide, I feel like we were cheated.

Mid Central attorneys have argued the students should be suing the South Dakota Department of Education, not the organizations that ran the GEAR UP programs.

But attorneys for the students say Mid Central was getting as much as $60,000 a month from the Department, and that the American Indian Institute for Innovation was taking between $40,000 and $150,000 a month directly from Mid Central’s bank account. And that just because Mid Central produced receipts to the Department, it doesn’t mean the money was being spent wisely. 

We’ll continue to follow this case and let you know what happens.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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