This week on the Minnesota Native News health report, a tribal school in the northern part of the state had to pivot because of COVID-19 and delay the start of school. Reporter Dalton Walker explains in this week’s story.
Class is back in session for Minnesota students.
Most schools are in-person and some still offer an option for virtual distance learning. All are navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic as positive cases continue to surge across the state mostly due to the delta variant.
The first day for the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School on Leech Lake didn’t go as planned. An outbreak amongst staff members happened days before the start of the school year forcing the district to push back the first day until Monday, Sept. 13.
School board chair Laurie Harper said staff are required to show proof of a negative test before returning to the classroom.
“All of our school staff are being required to test we’ve identified through contact tracing. Some will be tested through our tribal public health department and others will be tested outside of our tribal nation health facilities,” said Harper.
Face coverings are required for all.
The school is located in the Bena community and is home to 210 students from grades K-12. The Niigaane Ojibwe immersion program falls under Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig.
The new school year is in-person and 15 percent of the student population has opted to learn from home, according to Harper. In-person learning was a request by school officials, parents and students, she said.
The school is in the process of applying for a state grant to implement regular COVID-19 testing.
Last year, Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig started off with distance learning and educators quickly realized that more than half of the students learned better in person. The school implemented a system of small student groups in one classroom with rotating teachers.
“We can shift really quickly to back into what we were doing last year with smaller cohorts of students and having a teaching staff move from classroom to classroom rather than introducing new people into a cohort mix,” said Harper.
Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig is one of four tribally controlled schools in Minnesota under the Bureau of Indian Education contracts or grants. All four are on Ojibwe land. The other three are located on White Earth, Fond du Lac and Mille Lacs.
The bureau falls under the Interior Department. Recently, the Interior announced that all staff at BIE-managed schools were required to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“The United States has a direct interest in protecting American Indian and Alaska Native children, including their education, as part of its trust responsibility,” reads a news release explaining the vaccine mandate.
BIE operates and manages 53 schools across the country. No school in Minnesota is BIE operated, according to the Interior website directory. The mandate didn’t mention tribally controlled schools that receive BIE funding.
For Minnesota Native News health report, I’m Dalton Walker.
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