Nome Beltz High School "den of the mighty nanooks"

Following the winter holidays, Nome Public Schools (NPS) and the Bering Strait School District (BSSD) are returning to in-person instruction which began Monday, January 11th, while the Lower Yukon School District (LYSD) will proceed with a distance-learning model.

NPS announced last Thursday via a social media post that they will be returning to in-person learning with “all COVID-19 mitigation procedures still in effect.”

Ahead of the announcement, during a Nome School Board meeting in early December, NPS Superintendent Jamie Burgess spoke about the conditions required to return to in-person instruction.

“So, if everything works exceptionally well, we’ll be welcoming students back in on January 11th. January 4th was always planned to be a distance-learning week because we will have a significant number of staff and families traveling over the winter break. We want to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to observe quarantine and that we actually have enough staff to hold school.”

– Superintendent Jamie Burgess

As of January 11th, there are 7 active cases of COVID-19 in Nome.

BSSD also began the semester in a distance-learning format last week, but Superintendent Dr. Bobby Bolen expects almost all the schools in the district to return to “GREEN” status by Monday, January 11th. Diomede and Shaktoolik returned to in-person instruction on January 5th. Brevig Mission will likely wait until at least January 18th as a result of the active COVID-19 case in the community.

Dr. Bolen says all COVID-19 mitigation plans within schools will stay the same for now, including mask requirements and monthly COVID-19 testing. However, those plans could change as more teachers and community members receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We have on our website the progress of all the schools and their operating status, so we’ll keep the plan in place that we’ve had. We may start to modify some different things based on teachers that get the vaccine versus those that don’t.”

– Superintendent Dr. Bobby Bolen

For the Lower Yukon School District, on the other hand, the return to in-person instruction will have to wait. According to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation’s website, there are 181 active cases of COVID-19 in the YK Delta as of January 11th.

LYSD Superintendent Gene Stone says that based on these numbers, and consultation with the regional health corporation, the district will remain in “RED” until the virus’ spread slows.

“Ultimately our goal is to get kids back in school. We really want to get face-to-face, and we were able to deliver that the first 10 weeks of the school year, so we hope we can get back to that fairly soon. I think though, realistically, probably the soonest that’s going to occur is around the first of February.”

– Superintendent Gene Stone

Distance-learning in Western Alaska certainly provides unique challenges that teachers, parents, and students alike experience, especially as it relates to internet access. Superintendent Jamie Burgess acknowledges how these issues “continue to highlight some of the inequities that exist here in our rural communities…”

As this COVID school year continues however, Student Representative Stephan Anderson said during a NPS School Board meeting last month, that what students could benefit from most is continued “basic support” from parents and guardians.

Image at top: Outside Nome Beltz High School in October 2018. Photo: Katie Kazmierski, KNOM.