Safety threats close Kivalina school

Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Kivalina school was closed indefinitely Wednesday because of threatening behavior toward staff members, the chief executive officer of the Northwest Arctic Borough School District said.

Charles Mason said he ordered schools closed for safety reasons.

''The closure is required to protect the safety and well-being of the Kivalina staff, students and facilities,'' Mason said. ''The district has been unable to provide a safe and appropriate learning environment in Kivalina due to the threatening and assaultive conduct of a number of community residents toward members of the schools staff.''

Kivalina is at the tip of an 8-mile barrier reef located between the Chukchi Sea and Kivalina River. It lies 80 air miles northwest of Kotzebue. According to the state Department of Community and Economic Development, the population in 2001 was 377.

The Kivalina school serves children from kindergarten through high school. The school has 11 certified teachers and 10 or 11 classified employees, Mason said.

An Alaska State Trooper from Kotzebue flew to the community Wednesday afternoon and conducted interviews, said trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson. The trooper spent the night and interviewed more people this morning.

''No criminal charges are being considered at this time,'' Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson said the concerns apparently arose from threats made by students. He said staff members talked to parents and did not receive the cooperation they had hoped for.

Mason said the district does not intend to publicly discuss the specifics of its concerns or threats made against staff members.

''Many of those concerns involve personnel matters and student records that are required by law to be confidential,'' Mason said.

Mason said his No. 1 priority is the physical safety and well-being of the district's employees in Kivalina.

He said he could not predict when the school will reopen.

''The schools will not reopen until the district is assured that its staff will be safe and able to provide educational services in an environment free from fear,'' he said.

A community meeting is scheduled for Friday to discuss the closure.

''I'm optimistic we'll work through it,'' Mason said.

The Northwest Arctic Borough School District also serves schools in Ambler, Buckland, Deering, Kiana, Kobuk, Kotzebue, Noatak, Noorvik, Selawik and Shungnak.

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