Area Schools Approach Reopening Cautiously

Aug 28, 2020

Second grade teacher, Jenna Nadine works in her empty classroom on the first day of school at Mikelnguut Elitnaurviat. Classrooms remain empty on the first day of school as a local spike in coronavirus cases forced schools to remain closed while students and teachers turned to remote learning. August 24, 2020 in Bethel, Alaska.
Credit Katie Basile / KYUK

Four communities in the Lower Kuskokwim School District have started the school year without students in the classroom: Bethel, Nunapitchuk, Napakiak, Kasigluk.

LKSD superintendent Kimberly Hankins said that the decisions to go to remote learning in the additional villages were made over the Aug. 22 weekend in response to concerns in those communities about COVID-19.

“Cases and/or concerns. Proximity to areas where there are cases, and concern for that,” explained Hankins.

Hankins said that if there are no additional spikes in cases of COVID-19, the district is on schedule to open the Bethel schools to part-time, in-person classroom learning on Sept. 8.

Hankins said that schools and the district are learning as they go this year, but so far she said that the first week is going well. Some schools are making changes to things like where students should enter or leave the school, and how food is delivered. She also described some of the challenges in remote learning.

“For full-time remote, some of the strategies we’re using is to pre-record lessons, to load content and those pre-recorded lessons onto devices or thumb-drives. And then, of course, you always need to plan for the delivery and collection of materials. So when your plan changes the day prior, of course it’s going to require additional work,” Hankins said.

The district is also working with the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation to implement a testing program for school staff. Hankins said that they are talking about a voluntary program for the entire school year.

“The idea is to have a rotation where a staff person, if they want to participate, could get tested twice a month,” Hankins said.

With respect to the two most popular school sports, wrestling and basketball, Hankins said that the decision has not been made whether to provide those sports this school year because of concerns about the coronavirus.

“Not yet, at this point. The board passed the following back in July, to open to low risk and medium risk activities, which, for now, include cross country, volleyball, swim, and fall NYO,“ said Hankins.

Hankins said that the LKSD board will be revisiting the sports program. 

This year, the district is once again looking for additional substitute teachers. Hankins said that the pandemic has made the need even greater.

“If we have staff travel, and then they are going to quarantine, and, you know, we want to make sure we have enough substitutes to fill in during those times," Hankins said.

Hankins encourages anyone interested in substitute teaching to call the Lower Kuskokwim School District. Hankins can be heard live on Friday mornings on Coffee@KYUK.

There is a correction to an earlier version of this story that stated that Akiak was starting school this year remotely. It is actually Akiuk Memorial School in Kasigluk that is starting remotely, along with Akula Elitnaurvik also in Kasigluk.