Nez: Nation cannot play politics when assessing school reopening
Department of Diné Education encourages school leaders to involve stakeholders in reopening planning process
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. — In his state of the Nation address July 20, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said any plan about reopening schools on the Nation must be implemented with the health and safety of all students, teachers, administrators and employees as a top priority.
“We cannot rush the reopening of schools, whether it is done online or in person, and we absolutely cannot play politics with the health and well-being of our youth at stake,” Nez said.
Nez said the Department of Diné Education (DODE) has taken measures to assist schools with resources in planning for school reopenings and a task force created a document, ‘Roadmap to Reopening School,’ which will serve as guidance to school leadership to be used in addition to each state’s reopening plan. The plan can be found on the DODE website.
The Nation has different types of schools, which span three states (Arizona, New Mexico and Utah) — public, Bureau of Indian Education operated, tribally-controlled, private, parochial and charter schools.
Each of those schools has its local authority/oversight and governance.
“Most important, each school has individual needs,” Nez said. “In order for schools to craft a responsive and personalized school re-entry plan, school leaders are encouraged to use their state school re-entry plan and local demographics and health information.”
DODE is encouraging school leaders to involve their stakeholders in their planning process because of the public health safety issue of reopening schools.
“Transparency is key,” Nez said. “DODE has shared resources with school leaders on surveys that they can utilize. We understand that parents and students are very concerned about the reopening of schools and rightfully so. There are many uncertainties and much we have yet to learn about COVID-19, but proper planning and mitigation strategies will help school officials and students be more prepared.”
Nez said the DODE closed a parent survey and a principal survey and are compiling the information.
Nez said in a virtual forum July 22, this was one way for school principals and a member of their school boards to hear from the Navajo Department of Health, Epidemiology and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on COVID-19 data and the recommended guidelines for reopening schools.
DODE is also involved in some initiatives to support family nutrition and building an infrastructure for internet connection for students at all levels, preschool through college, Nez said.
“Food security was an issue at the onset of school closure (The Navajo Nation shut down all schools in mid-March),” Nez said. “DODE has provided student enrollment numbers to non-profit organizations to secure food boxes that are distributed to families. Other donations are in process based on survey results from schools regarding technology.”
Nez said, based on CDC guidelines for reopening schools, virtual learning is one that poses the least risk in the spread of COVID-19.
“We recognize that many schools will explore this format of learning and, therefore, DODE is actively addressing the digital divide and to getting student learning and teaching online in the most expeditious way,” he said.
Schools throughout Arizona will be required to begin classes on their normal start date, according to Gov.Doug Ducey and will need to provide instruction for the full 180 required school days, starting with remote online classes.