SHS students can return to class on limited basis, chief says
Sequoyah High School students will be able to return for in-person instruction at least one day a week beginning Oct. 19, Cherokee Nation leaders say. CHAD HUNTER/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Corey Bunch, Cherokee Nation’s Education Services executive director, addresses the Tribal Council remotely on Oct. 13 during a monthly committee meeting. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – Sequoyah High School students will return to the classroom at least one day a week beginning Oct. 19 thanks to the availability of rapid COVID-19 tests, Cherokee Nation leaders said.
In an Oct. 14 letter to SHS students and their families, the CN administration announced a plan to “safely allow some in-person instruction” based on the test known as BiNaxNOW.
“These tests, which just became available, are safe, accurate and fast,” Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. wrote. “This means that we can test students, teachers and staff weekly and obtain results before anyone is allowed in the building. The science of the COVID spread, including the incubation period and how and when the virus sheds, tells us that weekly tests are enough to ensure a school week in which we can minimize the risk of infection.”
Students began the school year rotating between in-person and distance learning, but a decision was made to go fully virtual in early September. Fall sports were also cancelled.
Hoskin noted that the new tests, coupled with existing practices of mandatory masks and social distancing, “will allow students back to a blended environment with at least one day of in-person instruction per week.”
“We are also making our dorms accessible to residential students,” he added. “And any student who opts to remain full-time virtual learning will also be allowed to do so.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Indian Health Service received hundreds of thousands of the BiNaxNOW tests for distribution to populations that include students at Bureau of Indian Education-funded schools.
A day prior to the back-to-school announcement, CN leaders were pushed for a firm return date during the Tribal Council’s Education Committee meeting.
“Of course, it’s our goal to get our students back on campus as soon as possible, especially for academic purposes,” Education Services Executive Director Corey Bunch said at the time. “We know that some students are struggling, some parents are struggling.”
Tribal Councilor Wes Nofire said he was concerned after hearing from “frustrated” students, parents and faculty.
“Not getting any sort of answer of a program or a plan is going to cause continually a lot of students transferring out, and I hate to hear that,” he said.
Bunch said of the 390 SHS students, 60 have transferred to other schools this year.
“We do have a plan,” he said. “We’re constantly planning, to be honest, and have been since the start of school, of ways we can keep our students not only safe, but give them the best education we can provide. The trouble is, we don’t want to overstate what we can do to keep our students safe.”
In his letter, Hoskin also addressed extracurricular activities such as drama and basketball.
“After we implement and monitor this plan, we will determine whether we can also restore some extracurricular activities,” he wrote. “Because we cannot control the safety standards and other schools in the region, those activities will not initially involve competitive activities with other schools. If we determine within a few weeks that we can safely restore these activities, we will let you know.”
In closing, Hoskin noted that dealing with COVID-19 “is hard and requires sacrifice.”
“I understand we are all getting impatient,” he wrote. “I want you to know that at Cherokee Nation, we will remain focused on what has guided us through the pandemic so far: science, facts and compassion.”