In-Person Classes for Bethel, AK

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As concerned parents and community members, we wish to take a stand to return to in-person school in Bethel, AK. Quality, in-person education is ESSENTIAL to the future of our children, families, community, region, state, and country.  Remote learning does not work well for the majority of our students. Remote learning is falling short for most of our kids and we, as a district and community, are failing them.  For students and their families who wish to continue with remote learning, it is already set up for them to continue. For students that do not learn well from home, an in-person option is necessary for success.  School is a crucial part of our community and we owe it to our kids, and their future, to get them back in an effective learning environment. While we appreciate LKSD working with YKHC to protect the safety of all, YKHC has a different agenda and LKSD should be advocating for the education of all students.

Please contact our ASB members and/or attend the next meeting 1/26 over Zoom. According to the website, the next school board meetings are set for 1/27 and 1/28. Please attend and voice your concerns.

We are requesting the original plan of 2 days a week in person school begin ASAP for the 3rd quarter and the potential for 5 day a week learning to begin for the 4th quarter. Approximately 20% of the region has had COVID-19, with 4,000 cases documented. It is unknown how many additional undocumented cases there have been. Many teachers have contracted COVID-19 and have immunity or have had/are scheduled for the vaccination. Teachers at each site that are concerned with contracting the virus can possibly oversee remote learning.

The teachers in the Lower Kuskokwim School District have been incredible. Learning new programs, changing their teaching methods, reaching out to parents and students if something seems out of the norm, and countless other examples. Teachers are trying to make the best of an undesirable situation, lack of resources and internet/intranet. The teachers, paraprofessionals and staff are in no way responsible for the difficulty that students and families are having with remote learning.

So many of our children are falling behind. Children who were behind in March 2020 are even further behind. Consequently, children who are due services provided through special education have not been getting the help, assistance, services and education they need simply because they don’t have the structure or support they normally have in school. Many students are struggling, even with teachers trying to provide required services in a remote manner. They need in-person education to be successful. With the number of teachers who have tested positive and have immunity, as well as teachers getting vaccinated, there is no reason as to why some kind of in-person schooling should not have resumed this week, or at least in process to resume school in Bethel within the next few weeks.

 

Specifically for the ASB, YKHC and the Board:

As previously stated, the signatories would like to present additional information for consideration when determining mode of learning for our students. Some points of consideration are listed below.

1.      Research and Guidance

a.      The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have come out in favor of having kids in school.  The AAP stated that strict adherence to the 6' rule is not necessary and that "adherence to a specific size of student groups should be discouraged in favor of other risk mitigation strategies” and “reducing classmate interaction/play in elementary school-aged children may not provide enough covid-19 risk reduction to justify potential harms”.  https://services.aap.org/en/pages/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-infections/clinical-guidance/covid-19-planning-considerations-return-to-in-person-education-in-schools/

b.      Also, from the AAP, there isn’t evidence that young children transmit the disease on a large scale. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879  ("COVID-19 Transmission and Children: The Child Is Not to Blame")

c.      The largest study of COVID-19 in children, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics indicates substantially lower risk and severity of COVID-19 in children https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2020/03/16/peds.2020-0702.full.pdf

d.      From the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine calls to reopen schools “Reopening K-12 Schools During the COVID Pandemic”:  “Weighing the health risks of reopening K-12 schools in fall 2020 against the educational risks of providing no in-person instruction, school districts should prioritize reopening schools full time, especially for grades K-5 and students with special needs.”https://www.nap.edu/read/25858 https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2020/07/schools-should-prioritize-reopening-in-fall-2020-especially-for-grades-k-5-while-weighing-risks-and-benefits 

e.      Deaths of children continue to be extremely low according to data from the CDC, and there is additional data supporting this in the CDC Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal new study from South Korea https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/26/10/20-1315_article  And for any kids with a co-morbidity or pre-existing condition, they have the virtual option.

2.      Dr Fauci is urging schools to open: https://madison.com/wsj/opinion/editorial/dr-anthony-fauci-sends-a-message-to-wisconsin-schools/article_dc9da817-0631-5e68-9137-fb12a90087e4.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=user-share&fbclid=IwAR3WaKFHQxRP6hGRztXSHlzQ5rtxu78C2EN74AjFIEcB9yCZ8KKudkWWKTI

3.      Neighboring Communities

a.      Several school districts in the state have been able to return to an in-person learning model. What are the mitigating factors that continue to make this mode of education successful in their districts? Districts in rural Alaska, Minnesota, rural Wisconsin, and rural Iowa can hold in-person schools, the same should be offered to our Lower Kuskokwim School District children.

4.      Educational Ramifications

a.      The Economic Policy Institute has collected information on un-intended consequences on academic success for students. Through evaluation of various research studies, a plan is offered for relief, recovery and the rebuilding of the academic successes of students. https://www.epi.org/publication/the-consequences-of-the-covid-19-pandemic-for-education-performance-and-equity-in-the-united-states-what-can-we-learn-from-pre-pandemic-research-to-inform-relief-recovery-and-rebuilding/

b.      Direct student impact can include, but is not limited to, assessments not being done in person, availability for discussions, group projects, physical activity, and monitored “brain breaks”.

c.      Our children who are due services provided through special education have not been getting the help, assistance, services and education they need. So many of them are struggling, even with teachers trying. They need in-person education to be successful.

5.      Mental Health Implications

a.      The full consequences of disrupted learning on the mental health of students is not yet realized. Mental health of our students in the YK-region was already a concern prior to remote instruction. Many students are offered mental health services and informal supports through the education system. Additionally, mental health symptoms can emerge during the stress of various learning styles, not understanding why changes are occurring, and no guidance on when things will change. Several students have experienced symptoms that can lead to a mental health diagnosis. Including, but not limited to:

                    i.     Increased worry

                    ii.     Overt and disruptive behaviors

                    iii.     Loss of self-worth

                    iv.     Feelings of hopelessness

                    v.     Appetite changes

                    vi.     Sleeping patterns altered

                    vii.     Personality changes

                    viii.     Isolation and withdrawing from various social opportunities

b.      Relationships with family members are impacted. Even positive relationships can strain and waiver during stressful times. Having no social outlet for students and/or siblings can cause undue tension in familial relationships.

c.      In-person learning, being around friends and teachers supports the mental health of most students. This learning model also provides much-needed screening and assessments for social and emotional health.

6.      Burden on Families

a.      Availability: All parents (working out of home, working from home, stay at home) are being put in an impossible situation. Even if a family can have a parent in the home while students are participating in distance learning, the parent is not qualified as a substitute teacher. Additionally, there are families that do not have the option to have a parent available to help with schoolwork. Parents that do have flexibility with work schedules, are at the mercy of an employer. This can also cause more community spread whereas parents may need to ask multiple people to watch their children, causing the children to be exposed to more people, and possibly even the most vulnerable group – grandparents or other elders.

b.      Supervision: Without an in-person option for school, some parents are forced to find alternative care, or possibly, leave children at home that are not old enough, responsible enough or mature enough to be home alone. Also, older children may have the burden of completing their schoolwork during the day, but also tasked with watching and helping younger siblings with schoolwork as well. Older children are not necessarily staying home and staying safe. Students are spending time at their friends’ homes without masks, not social distancing, and no extra/deep cleaning of the environment to prevent contamination.

c.      Financial: The distance learning model is impossible for working single parents or two-parent working households that have small children. Attendance for work is one issue for parents but affording and obtaining full-time childcare during the school day is an additional cost that was not anticipated.

d.      Internet Access: Lower Kuskokwim School District is a remote district with limited internet access. The intranet has taken many months to set up and not every student can still access it. Having to add additional bandwidth to accommodate the distance/virtual learning model is another financial burden on the family.  Likewise, if a family isn’t able to purchase a higher speed, or one is not available in their location, then streaming videos and Zoom meetings are going to lag and/or not work properly.  Add to this, multiple children and multiple devices pulling from an already maxed internet bandwidth, keeping applications and videos up and running is nearly impossible.

e.      Learning Levels: Families with more than one child in distance learning struggle with various Zoom meetings, multiple teachers for several subjects, different learning platforms to learn and navigate, expectations for attendance and processes for submitting work. Parents are tasked to knowing all these practices in order to ensure that their children are completing requirements.

The district staff, parents, community members, and students are all in this together.

Our entire community is Warrior Strong, and we will prevail. The concern is the cost that our students will pay. We believe that the Lower Kuskokwim School District community in Bethel can mitigate CoVID-19 risk while providing safe, quality, and in-person education for our students. We ask that the ASB, School Board and Administration re-consider in-person learning. Thank you.