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Navajo Nation moves toward virtual learning

Tribe has gone 35 days with fewer than 100 cases

FARMINGTON – Even with case rates slowing on the Navajo Nation, schools are likely to implement virtual learning for the fall semester, with funding support from the federal CARES Act.

The Navajo Nation, previously one of the areas reporting the highest rates of COVID-19, has seen a decrease in deaths recently after a couple months of strict social-distancing policies and weekend curfews.

The Department of Diné Education conducted two surveys, one of parents and one of school principals, for input about how the community wanted to return to schooling for the fall 2020 semester with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Preliminary results showed a large majority of parents supported virtual and online learning, considering it safer for their children, according to a news release from the office of the Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.

“The number of COVID-19 cases here on the Navajo Nation is flattening, but based on the high number of COVID-19 cases in cities and other areas near and around the Navajo Nation, there remains substantial risk for our citizens,” Nez said in a news release.

The Department of Diné Education announced it was still working to secure Wi-Fi equipment and laptops for online learning. But it had recently received 2,500 laptops, a large portion of which was donated from the New Mexico Public Education Department.

There are also different types of schools with different authority on the Navajo Nation – which spans Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. On the Nation, there are public, private, parochial, charter, tribal and Bureau of Indian Education operated schools.

“Each school has their local authority and governance, so this really has to be a collaborative effort among all school officials, teachers, parents,” said Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer. “It will be challenging but we have to do everything we can to protect our students, teachers and many others so that our students can continue to advance their education.”

The Bureau of Indian Education recently announced that its 65 schools on the Nation would remain closed until at least Sept. 16 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Nez said his administration supports reopening schools with virtual learning “but we also realize that there are challenges with that approach, including the lack of adequate telecommunications infrastructure to support online learning for all students.”

Nez’s administration announced a proposal to use $90 million in federal CARES Act funding to bridge that virtual gap some students might experience.

A large portion of the funding – more than $94 million – would go toward broadband development and telecommunications. In addition, $45 million would go to undergraduate and graduate college student relief; $5 million to Navajo Head Start centers; about $4 million to teacher development and student support; $3.7 million for Department of Diné Education technical needs; and $5 million for Department of Diné Education incentives.

The Nation, which has gone more than 35 days with fewer than 100 cases reported daily, implemented strict social-distancing policies, a daily curfew and a nightly curfew to lower its case count.

On Monday, the Nation announced 36 new cases and one COVID-19-related death, bringing its total number of deaths to 462 and 9,139 positive cases.

Public schools in New Mexico will also be virtual learning through at least Sept. 8, according to the state’s Public Education Department’s decision.


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