All but one Y-K Delta school district move to remote learning

The Kuspuk School District building in Aniak (Alaska Department of Commerce Community Photo Database)

After several weeks during which hundreds of Y-K Delta residents tested positive for COVID-19, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation recommended that all schools shut down in-classroom learning for two weeks. Many of the six school districts in the Y-K Delta are following that advice, but not all. 

Superintendent David Herbert said that the St. Mary’s School District went into “high-risk” mode, or remote learning, after talking with the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation’s COVID-19 team on Oct. 27.

Read more stories of how the coronavirus is affecting rural Alaska

“Thankfully we don’t have any positive cases in the village right now, but we are heeding the warning from the medical experts,” Herbert said. “I am a superintendent; I run school districts.”

Herbert said that as an educator, he isn’t necessarily qualified to make epidemiological decisions. For Lower Yukon School District Superintendent Gene Stone, the decision to go to remote learning was relatively easy. Stone said that his district has six villages with active COVID-19 cases.

“They just continue to pop up. Not just in ours, but just across the whole Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta,” Stone said.

In response to communities that ask why their school is closed when there are no documented cases of COVID-19 in their village, Stone repeated the same explanation he’s heard from the experts.

“People think that they’re fine, and in reality they’re not,” Stone said. “There’s existing cases among them, and people are just totally unaware of it, and asymptomatic people walking around town, and then suddenly have an outbreak.” 

Along with St. Mary’s and the Lower Yukon School Districts, the Lower Kuskokwim, Yupiit, and Kashunamiut School Districts are all closing their doors to students for at least two weeks. After that, they plan to reevalutate the COVID-19 situation with YKHC.

One Y-K Delta School District is continuing with in-person classes. The Kuspuk School District covers the Kuskokwim River communities from Kalskag to Stony River. Kuspuk Superintendent James Anderson wrote to KYUK in an email that “we have not gone to high-risk. We are still in face-to-face. I have not been notified of any cases in my communities.”

KYUK responded with a link to YKHC’s announcement that a COVID-19 case had been identified in Aniak on Oct. 24. Anderson did not respond to that email before deadline.

The Kuspuk School District has the support of Aniak’s Tribal Council President to stay open. Wayne Morgan said that he was grateful that the schools were open.

“I’m concerned about our students right now… not having a regular schedule with school and regular learning. This is putting our kids back. My personal feeling is it’s putting them back a year,” said Morgan.

Morgan said that YKHC’s recommendation to school districts to close was just that: a recommendation.

But not everyone is supportive of schools in Kuspuk School Districts staying open. Aniak resident Joe Kameroff Sr. said, “I think it should be closed because of the virus going on.”

Kameroff understands that parents would be concerned about their children’s education, but to him, it’s not worth the tradeoff of risking people’s lives to provide that education. 

“You don’t go to school or you might get killed, so either way it’s bad,” Kameroff said.

On Oct. 29, YKHC announced the second COVID-19 case in Aniak.