Feds Will Reopen Schools on Native American Reservations

A school bus drives through the Navajo Nation in April.

A school bus drives through the Navajo Nation in April. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Despite the outsize toll the pandemic has taken on Native American communities, the federal government said that schools on reservations should reopen in September.

The federal agency tasked with the oversight of some schools on Native American reservations announced that officials intend to reopen 53 schools they manage in 10 states to the “maximum extent possible” on September 16.

The Bureau of Indian Education, part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, last week sent out a memo to bureau-operated schools saying that virtual-only learning environments would only be allowed if an outbreak occurred at the school that required a schoolwide shutdown. Though families can opt for distance learning if they want, teachers will be required to teach from the classroom, according to the memo, which was first obtained by NBC News.

The news has been met with alarm by the union that represents Bureau of Indian Education employees. 

“I am very concerned, and so are the majority of employees I’m hearing from,” said Sue Parton, president of the Federation of Indian Service Employees. “Many Native Americans depend on [the Indian Health Service] for healthcare. That has historically been underfunded and this pandemic is highlighting that.”

Native American reservations have been some of the hardest hit locations during the coronavirus pandemic, becoming early hotspots for the virus in May and June. The Navajo Nation at one point had more positive cases per capita than any state in the country, while the disease has torn through other tribes, such as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and the White Mountain Apache tribe.

Reopening schools on reservations could be more dangerous not only because cases are flourishing there, but also because of the high instance of diseases among the general public that can cause complications and make the coronavirus more deadly, including diabetes, asthma, and high blood pressure. Native Americans are more than five times more likely to be hospitalized from the virus than white people.

To make matters more concerning, reservations are often located in rural areas with little access to healthcare and hospitals. Indian Health Service facilities also lack the Intensive Care Unit capacity to handle a surge in cases; the 24 IHS-run healthcare centers across the country share just 33 ICU beds.

These factors combined mean that “schools have no ability to address the health concerns of students and staff,” Parton said. 

The Bureau of Indian Education in their reopening guidelines ask schools to take precautionary measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, including making hand sanitizer available, breaking classes into smaller groups, spacing desks at least six feet apart, and deep cleaning classrooms and school buses. 

The Bureau acknowledged that “many educators in BIE schools may be vulnerable to Covid-19, raising questions about how to protect them, whether they will want to work in schools next year, and how to respond to any resultant personnel shortages.” They promised to “work with the union to revisit aspects of its agreement to help schools adapt to social distancing and to ensure that vulnerable teachers can work safely and productively.”

Parton said that the union was not consulted in the most recent decision and that the BIE is “notoriously bad at sharing information.” The Bureau did not respond to a request for comment.

In its memo to schools, the Bureau said that reopening will be beneficial to students, who “more effectively learn and grow while attending school during in-person academic instruction.” 

Virtual learning has been a particular challenge for rural schools where many students lack a stable internet connection or a computer at home—in 2018, just 53% of households in Indian Country had high speed internet access. Tribal schools across the country are still scrambling to offer students tablets, mobile wifi hotspots, and other devices needed to participate in virtual classrooms as back-to-school decisions are made. 

The back-to-school season is already stressful for educators at tribal schools, said Parton, and the BIE announcement has not helped. “It’s a decision with no answers,” she said, adding that teachers are still in the dark about many of the aspects of the reopening plan and that some only found out about going back in person via texts from their principals. “The employees are extremely confused about what is going to happen.”

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

NEXT STORY: How the Pandemic Defeated America

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.