Wind River Reservation school re-opening decision tabled

(Ethete, WY) – Students and parents met at the Tribal Offices in Ethete today, January 15th ahead of the Inter-Tribal Council meeting in hopes of getting the Wind River Reservation school closure lifted to a hybrid option.

Opening up the schools to this combined in-person and virtual learning environment would allow students who are struggling with remote learning a chance to get the in-person teaching they may need, and this also opens up the possibility for schools to participate in spring sports.

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The Council meeting began around 2:30 pm and continued until well after 5:00 pm tonight. Following the meeting, Councilmembers announced the decision on whether or not to open the schools has been tabled. They shared the schools were not ready to re-open at this moment, and the superintendents have been tasked with creating plans for re-opening to present to the Council at a future meeting – possibly before the end of January.

County 10 had the opportunity to talk about the school closures with some of the students and parents in attendance today.

When asked how the school closures have impacted her, Wyoming Indian High School (WIHS) sophomore Layla C’Bearing said, “It is okay for the most part but I know it’s not quality learning. It’s frustrating because I don’t get the education I did when I was in school. So, that’s why I’m here, not only for basketball but for education. I think we’re ready to get back into school because we’ve been practicing wearing a mask and social distancing for long enough. I just really hope that the council listens to us and hears our voices and decides to change their minds and let us go back.”

WIHS senior Angela Astorga feels that students who would like to go back should be able to, and it should be up to them and their parents. “Basketball is so also part of our community, all of our elders go there and watch us play. It’s kind of sad not letting that be able to happen right now but hopefully, we’ll be able to do it in a safe way and that’s what the coaches and everybody else have been working on. They have their plan and hopefully, it will be able to work and go through.”

Jaden Ferris, a WIHS senior, said, “most of our seniors are pretty bummed because we don’t have that last year of high school sports. Basketball of course is always the most important around here and so we just wanted to at least have a short season, so we can just go out with a bang.”

A parent of two students, Crystal C’Bearing, shared “I just want to support their education and I feel like they’re ready. It’s time to go back to school because we have the vaccine now and it’s there’s hope. With tribal programs opening up and the casino opening, it is coming into our homes regardless. It is not fair that are our students are stuck at home and they’re struggling online and they want to go back and they want to play sports.”

Crystal also shared the results of a recent online survey she sent to parents and students on the Wind River Reservation. According to the results received, approximately 74% of the community want schools to open.

67 students from across all of the schools on the Wind River Reservation responded to the survey. The results shared with County 10 are as follows: 43% said they’re not doing so well in online learning, 73% do not like online learning, 87% participate in extracurricular activities (includes sports and academic activities), 75% said that they have lost all motivation, 64% are frustrated, 12% has turned to drugs and alcohol use, 6% have had suicidal thoughts because they’re struggling in the online classes, 39% have internet access problems, 1% experienced abuse in their home and 37% have depression.

“That was kind of a big thing for me,” Crystal continued. “Our students, they’re suffering.”

Parent, Twinkle Astorga, also shared all students deserve an education no matter their ability. “I realize it’s a pandemic and the school district was in a frenzy trying to find a plan to work for the children; it’s almost been a year that our kids have been home. Some are passing all the tests, others are barely making it, and we have ones that are struggling at this time.”

County 10 will keep you updated as information is released.

County 10 Photo – Attendees waiting outside for the Council
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