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COVID-19 Creates Virtual Cross-Country Race

The Kipnuk Falcons won the Lower Kuskokwim School District basketball tournament 51 to 23 in against the Nunapitchuk Wolves on March 3, 2018 at the Bethel Regional High School gym.
Kaylen Jones

The pandemic has changed the face of schooling throughout the Lower Kuskokwim School District, and nowhere is this more evident than in school athletics. 

Superintendent Kimberly Hankins says that there are a mix of athletic options in the district: from schools who practice and compete with small neighboring communities, all the way down to those who practice but don’t compete, and those that don’t practice or do any athletics. Hankins said that some schools have even found a way to stage cross-country meets virtually, but that takes careful consideration of the nature of the course.

“You wouldn’t want one community, let’s say if it’s a 2-mile run, to be asking students to run a completely hilly course, where other students might have the opportunity to run a flat course,” said Hankins. “So you’re looking for a similar course across the participating communities to provide for somewhat the same experience for runners, and then you’re combining the outcomes to come up with the winners.”

Still up in the air is the decision to go forward with basketball and wrestling, two sports that require a lot of physical contact. The LKSD Board is expected to take that up at its next meeting on Oct. 22.

Which schools are conducting classes in classrooms is also changing as the level of risk from the virus changes. Some village schools that were at “high risk,” and keeping kids at home learning remotely, have moved back to “medium risk,” allowing students to return to classrooms at least part of the school day. Hankins said that transition back to classrooms occurred after the community made it through two weeks with no new cases of COVID-19. In Bethel, a hub community, Hankins said that the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation recommends guidelines that are a bit different for returning to classroom teaching.

“They would support that Bethel schools return to medium risk after a two-week period where there is no new cases identified as community spread. We are going to continue to have cases that are travel-related, I’m sure, as long as people continue to travel,” said Hankins.

The district is continuing to work at installing “intranet” systems to allow students learning from home real-time access to teachers. Hankins said that the priority is on putting that system in place in a village with sporadic community spread of the virus which limits students to remote learning. So far, they have the firewall in place and the equipment is there. Now homeowners need to do the installation before it gets tested.

“We’re hopeful that testing can happen by the end of next week,” said Hankins.

In Bethel, the Lower Kuskokwim School District has put a list together of the households in the district that have students, and is waiting on GCI to put the intranet systems in place.

Greg Kim was a news reporter for KYUK from 2019-2022.