Cass Lake, MN – On Thursday, August 13, 2020, the Leech Lake Tribal Council issued the following recommendation to area schools as they consider how to begin the 2020-2021 school year this fall.
COVID-19 has impacted almost all facets of life for our people. As the governing body of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, the Leech Lake Reservation Business Committee has taken the threat of this novel coronavirus very seriously from day one, early on declaring a public health emergency, closing our tribal government and business operations for a lengthy period of time, and taking every precaution within our ability to slow the spread of this virus.
From the outset, experts from the Centers for Disease Control made clear that individuals who have underlying health conditions that cause them to be immunodeficient are much more likely to develop severe illness if they contract the virus. We know those underlying conditions are rampant in our community, including diabetes, heart disease, respiratory illness, and others. In addition, we also understand COVID-19 has a higher likelihood of causing severe illness in our elderly population. As Anishinabe people, protecting our elders and vulnerable population is at the core of who we are and why we take the actions we take.
Like protecting our elders and vulnerable, ensuring the best for our future generations is also a core tenet of the Anishinabe identity. In the midst of this pandemic, these ideals must be balanced to ensure the greatest good for all our people. As we enter the fall season, and school districts begin to consider their educational options for the fall semester, we encourage schools to re-open cautiously and slowly. We understand that distance learning is not ideal in all situations, and hybrid models have been suggested that allow for some face-to-face interaction between students and teachers while offering some measure of protection for students, teachers and staff. Importantly, our own Leech Lake Tribal College and Bugonaygeshig School are utilizing a distance learning model as they both reopen.
We understand the Governor of Minnesota has provided guidance to school districts in considering their plans as a new academic year starts. We offer this public statement of as our own guidance to school districts that are responsible for educating our Band members. Please consider the impacts of reopening on families who have multi-generational households, and families who have underlying health conditions within the household. We ask school districts, at a minimum, to utilize hybrid models that limit close interaction and allow students to learn from a distance as much as possible.
At this time, we strongly urge the school districts to open the school year in a distance learning model. We understand the complexities of learning in distance models and providing access to equitable education settings at any point in time. Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe will work across programs and departments to ensure we partner with our students and families to ensure regular and timely attendance during the distance learning period. We will continue to partner with our Local Indian Education Committees to ensure continuity of services to our students during this time. The Leech Lake Education Department remains committed to partnering with the school districts to ensure our students receive the supports they need in order to be successful in a distance learning model.
Given the uptick in cases we have seen in northern Minnesota in recent weeks, we see no need to rush to reopen. As a tribal government, we have delayed reopening our own government and businesses from Phase 1 to Phase 2 several times, and will continue to push back a Phase 2 reopening date as many times as we feel necessary. It is far easier to remain closed than to reopen and be forced to closed again. We ask the school district to use this same logic. Reopening slowly will very likely save lives within our community and continue to curb the spread of this virus in our communities.