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Seattle's public schools are pandemic ready

Denise Juneau reports on state of Seattle public schools during the pandemic. Plus Kolby KickingWoman gets us up to date on all the bills in Washington affecting Indian Country.

Patty Talahongva

Indian Country Today

When the pandemic hit in March, many schools were on spring break and made the decision to cancel school for the rest of the year. Now with the fall semester starting, Superintendent Denise Juneau of the Seattle Public Schools tells us how schools are faring. Juneau is Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation. 
Kolby KickingWoman is a reporter based in Washington, DC, and he's been covering the recent CARES Act ruling plus the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women's Bills.  

Here are a few comments:

Denise Juneau:

No, Washington state was hit pretty hard early with the virus. And so we had some spikes early on. And Seattle actually, we were the first district to close our doors even before the governor's order, just because we had some cases that had risen up in our school system. And we were following what the transmission rates were. We were following the spike in infections. We made the decision early on to close the doors. It was supposed to only be for two weeks. And then the governor had to step in because it kept spreading and close the doors of all the schools across Washington state. And so we had to stay in remote mode throughout the spring and, all across the country, it really was a crisis. We were responding to a crisis situation. Educators had to make a hard pivot into a remote setting that they were not used to having to provide. It was a little choppy and rough at the beginning. But we took the time over the summer to build some systems so that we are better this fall.

You know, I've popped into a couple classrooms throughout the spring and teaching and learning was happening. We didn't have the systems built for a virtual system. Our educators are doing heroic work of working with students in a virtual setting, but we didn't have common platforms. We didn't have common schedules. So we were able to build systems over the summer and really have at least some predictability and consistency for our families and students moving into the fall. That's really helped. So people know where to go to access lessons. They know what time school starts, they know what time live learning might be happening. Our schools have been able to really pick up those systems and deliver a quality education, no matter the setting across Seattle right now. And that work is really because of our educators and our school leaders.

If we look back at the history of Native people in this country, we all know about previous pandemics. The smallpox epidemic and there's just a lot of trauma I think with Natives looking at history and now we're back in this setting and what does that mean to us overall? I look at my hometown of Browning on the Blackfeet reservation and the spike in transmission rates there and people having to hunker down. I think there are historical sorts of lessons, but also some trauma that comes up in this setting as well. And so anxiety can be higher. People trying to figure out how to work through this system and that is fed into our students as well and our young people and their understanding of how to navigate this as well, given that history can be significant.

Kolby KickingWoman:

Friday afternoon, a three judge panel from the DC district court of appeals ruled that Alaska Native corporations cannot be, are not eligible for the $8 million set aside in the CARES Act that was passed back in March. So we'll see where it goes from here. I think the next step would be the Supreme Court and we all know that's been making a news lately as well.

The panel ruled that under the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act that Alaska Native corporation did not fit the definition of a governing body of a tribe I believe is what the judge wrote in his opinion. ANC’s were obviously disappointed in that ruling. And I imagine they’re going to challenge it further.

Rudy Soto is the Shoshone Bannock. He's running for the first con first congressional district seat in Idaho against Ross Fulcher, who I believe was elected in 2018. He was just a fun guy to talk to. He worked for various tribal nonprofits, National nonprofits in DC. So I've ran into him a couple of times over the years. And he's looking to increase the Native voices in Congress.

Yeah. Savanna’s Act and the Non-invisible Act were both passed by the house last week and have been sent to the President's desk to be signed into law. It increases data sharing between tribes law enforcement and the federal government. I believe the Savanna's Act also requires the Department of Justice to include missing and murdered Indigenous women data and an annual report to Congress among other things. As we both know the rates at which Native women are victims of violence and go missing is just quite frankly disturbing. And so these bills are very critical pieces of legislation that hopefully help law enforcement and tribes and make those numbers go down and at least keep track of these cases through federal databases and such.

Patty Talahongva, Hopi, is executive producer of Indian Country Today. Follow her on Twitter: @WiteSpider. Based in Phoenix, Arizona. Talahongva enjoys hiking, reading and traveling to new places.

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