Navajo Nation Moving To Phased Reopening Plan With Online Learning

Aug 13, 2020, 6:21 PM | Updated: 6:23 pm
File photo (KSL TV)...
File photo (KSL TV)

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – Navajo Nation officials said they will use a phased-in approach to reopen beginning Aug. 17, while tribal leaders disagreed with a federal mandate ordering all schools on the reservation to prepare for in-class learning.

The Navajo Nation Reopening Plan will serve as a guide to safely and gradually reopen business on the Navajo Nation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This will not be a rushed reopening. We spent many weeks working together with the health care experts and many others to develop the phased-in reopening plan. The first case of COVID-19 in the Navajo Nation was confirmed on March 17, and that is the day we faced an invisible monster like we never dealt with before. Since that day, we have combated the virus together, and it has made us stronger and more resilient,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

“In May, we saw the highest number of positive cases and now we are seeing a consistent flattening of the curve. We have had 48 consecutive days with less than 100 reported daily cases of COVID-19, and 13 consecutive days under 50 daily cases,” Nez said.

The reservation has been successful in bending the curve through a combination of daily curfews and weekend lockdowns. One more lockdown begins Saturday at 9 p.m. and ends Monday at 5 a.m.

“We commend and thank our Navajo people for listening to our health care experts, law enforcement, leaders and others. Our frontline workers, such as firefighters, EMTs, police officers, doctors, nurses, grocery store workers and custodians, were working around the clock saving lives. Together, we helped each other through our way of life teachings to flatten the curve,” said Nez.

Back To School

Recently the Nez administration recommended, and the Navajo Nation Board of Education approved, a plan for online learning, as opposed to in-person learning when students return to school in the coming weeks, according to a news release.

That decision put the Navajo Nation at odds with an order from the Bureau of Indian Education that said all BIE schools will open for in-person classes beginning Sept. 16. The order said, “To the maximum extent possible, BIE schools will operate brick and mortar schools. Schools will have a range of options for scheduling students, e.g., full-time attendance, rotational schedule with reduced class sizes and reduced number of students in the buildings. Local decisions will be made in coordination with tribes, states and local public health officials.”

The order does make provisions for BIE schools to plan for remote learning if the spread of COVID-19 leads to another shutdown of schools.

In a meeting earlier this week, Nez told BIE Director Tony Dearman that he does not support the reopening of BIE schools with in-person learning for the current semester, the release said.

“There is a possibility that parents may choose to move their children out of BIE schools if they feel that BIE schools are unsafe and enroll them in other schools that offer online classes,” Nez said Thursday.

Nez added, “If the number of enrolled students goes down within BIE schools, that may provide the federal government with justification to cut funding for BIE schools, which would be very disappointing and unfortunate – we hope this is not their intention. BIE Acting Associate Deputy Director Charles Sherman assured us that they respect the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation and will proceed with online classes.”

Nez also said state schools are also supportive of online learning.

Navajo Nation Reopening Plan

The reopening plan requires all businesses on the Navajo Nation to develop policies and procedures to ensure and encourage social distancing, special accommodations for high-risk staff, provide personal protective gear for employees and have enough disinfectants on hand to clean high contact areas.

Businesses also need a plan on regular screening, training and response to suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases in the workplace.

Leaders will use a color-coded system to illustrate the current risk situation on the reservation. It is similar to the system Utah has been using since the state gradually reopened.

Red is the highest level of restrictions, orange will indicate moderate and yellow will indicate low restrictions.

The Navajo Nation will begin to reopen next week under orange restrictions.

The Navajo Nation Executive Branch has also created the Navajo Nation COVID-19 Worksite Safety Guidelines for tribal government departments to follow as employees return to work.

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Navajo Nation Moving To Phased Reopening Plan With Online Learning