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Tribes Working To Change Education Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

The shift to on-line learning for the nation’s K-12 students presents new challenges for educators. But some tribal schools are struggling with the transition for different reasons. Their technology infrastructure and internet access aren’t strong enough to connect isolated students.


Indigenous educators are working to include tribal schools and communities in conversations about the shift to distance learning. The National Indian Education Association advocates for Indigenous education services at federal, state and local levels. Diana Cournoyer, is an Oglala Lakota, and the group’s Executive Director. She says tribal schools are shut down, and the move to online learning is a challenge.  


“183 elementary and secondary Bureau of Indian Education schools have closed. Haskell Indian Education University has decided to go to online classes. Our tribal colleges and services have had to move to online if possible,” she said.


Cournoyer says this disproportionately impacts students who live in rural areas, like reservations in South Dakota. She says lack of Broadband and limited access to technology and equipment makes distance learning a struggle. She says more than 30 percent of Native students don’t have internet access. 


“This is widening the education equity gap that we continue to argue for and debate and fight on the Hill at the local level, at the federal level.” 


Cournoyer is concerned some students are already behind and if these issues aren’t resolved, it will get worse. The Indian Education Association is working with policy leaders to include tribal schools in federal responses to the Coronavirus. 


“We’re advocating for 40 million for the extension of classes for an estimated four weeks of the Bureau Indian Education Schools including institutions of higher learning. We’re advocating to expand the health insurance benefits for our educators and our staff that are working at Bureau schools-130 tribally controlled schools.”


Cournoyer says they’re also working to ensure that students who depend on school lunches have access to healthy meals.