BSSD returns to in-person classes
On Monday, most schools in the Bering Strait School District returned to in-person classes for the spring semester. With the exception of Brevig Mission and Shishmaref, all village schools are in the “green” status, meaning school can operate mostly as normal, with some COVID prevention measures like mask wearing and regular testing in place.
Some teachers traveled to the Lower 48 for Christmas and New Year’s, but BSSD Superintendent Dr. Robert Bolen said getting teachers back into the region went fairly smoothly. “Anybody who traveled to the Lower 48 had to have a negative COVID result before returning,” he said. “Anyone who traveled through Nome tested again there per Nome’s requirement, and then all teachers were required to quarantine [in their community] for a minimum of seven days until they got another COVID test, unless their community required longer.”
School buildings opened on January 4 in the “purple” zone, a modified version of “red” remote learning. Students weren’t allowed in the building for regular classes, but teachers who were out of quarantine could go into their classrooms and get set up. Special activities like tutoring and sport practices were also allowed. The week of “purple” remote learning wasn’t a reaction to any spike in case numbers, but a pre-planned lead-in to the semester.
As of Monday, there were no active cases in any of the villages, and most BSSD schools went into the “green” zone, allowing students to physically come to class as long as they wore masks and stayed socially distant, measures have become familiar to students and teachers after the fall semester.
The two exceptions are Brevig Mission and Shishmaref, where there are no active cases but a number of people are possible close contacts. Those two villages are having another week of remote learning, but Bolen said he was hopeful they could go to in-person classes next week. He added that BSSD is prepared to go remote in villages with active cases, as a number of schools did at various points during the fall semester, but that the ideal situation would be to keep the virus out and students in.
“We did the best we could with the resources that were available to us, but nothing beats face-to-face interaction with students,” he said.
One change from last semester will be the way remote packets are graded. Bolen said that this semester, teachers in “red” zone schools will grade remote packets soon after they’re turned in, a move which aims to increase accountability for students.
But for the most part, remote school will look the same as last semester.
Another possible change this semester is with regards to sports. Bolen said he was working with other administrators to come up with a way for sports teams to travel within the region and compete with one another, as long as their respective schools were in the “green” zone.
“We’re looking at a couple options for travel,” he said. “A lot of it depends on the communities, because their travel restrictions are what is really limiting us right now. So, we’d need the communities to either change their restrictions or put in exceptions for sports.”
He added that BSSD has its own plane, which could help make traveling for sports more efficient and less risky. One option would be to host mini basketball tournaments, where multiple teams meet up at one school for a round robin series of games.
But that all pivots on having no case numbers in the villages and keeping schools in the “green,” he said.
While COVID vaccines are becoming increasingly available in the region, Bolen said he expected COVID precautions to last for the entire semester. “I think it’s still going to be up and down the rest of the year until everybody can get through the cycle of vaccinations, but hopefully enough people will get vaccinated that it’ll make next year kind of back to normal,” he said.