Kivalina school remains closed

Posted: Wednesday, March 06, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Kivalina's school remained closed this week as details emerged about what went wrong over the past several months in the small Inupiat village.

Education officials don't know when the roughly 135 students will return to classes. Some students will take state-required tests this week.

The Northwest Arctic Borough School District abruptly closed McQueen School a week ago, citing ''assaultive'' behavior by parents and students against teachers and staff members. Five of the school's 11 teachers transferred last week.

''I don't think it's all a race thing,'' said Dewey Bodley, who taught math in Kivalina until last Wednesday. ''Because the behaviors toward the Native substitutes and the Native aides were terrible. They (students) weren't respectful of them, the same way they were disrespectful of the white teachers.''

Bodley, his wife, Pamela, and Mildred Dew took teaching jobs at Napaaqtugmiut School in Noatak. ReNae Morgan went to Kotzebue, and Nada Zukas is employed at Shungnak School.

Bodley, 42, said tension in the northwest Alaska village of about 375 people grew worse after he and his wife arrived last summer.

''There was quite a level of anger,'' he said. ''We were getting reports back from the village about how the new teachers were ruining the school, the new teachers should leave, that (the village) didn't want us.''

One day last August, Dewey Bodley tried to leave his home but found the front door chained shut. He had to climb out a window.

Later that fall, he caught a seventh-grader with soda pop, which is not allowed at school. Bodley tried to send the student to the principal's office. ''And he ignored me,'' Bodley said. ''And right in front of the office with other teachers and secretaries standing there, he hit me.''

Students and parents swore in his classroom, Bodley said. People banged on the side of his home late at night, despite a village curfew.

''Our front door has a lot of little dents in it where we found some BBs,'' Bodley said. ''We had a dog. They may have been shooting at the dog.''

A husky puppy belonging to Enoch Adams Jr. was found mutilated and hanging from the village water tower in late January, said Andy Greenstreet of the Alaska State Troopers. Adams, a Kivalina native, teaches at the school.

No charges have been filed. The case will likely be turned over to the Kotzebue office of the Division of Juvenile Justice, he said.

Troopers were called to Kivalina again Feb. 22 for an assault related to the school, spokesman Greg Wilkinson said.

Bodley said he was involved in that assault. Neither he nor troopers would elaborate.

The incident prompted Bodley to travel to Kotzebue last week to testify at a school board meeting about Kivalina's problems.

''We were more worried about some irate person coming into the school and some innocent person, possibly a kid, getting hurt,'' Bodley said.

The next day, district officials in Kotzebue held an after-school conference call with McQueen School staff members and principal Betty Wallace. Charles Mason, Northwest Arctic Borough Schools' chief executive officer, told them the school was closed, effective immediately. He gave teachers the option to transfer. Charles Tinker, Anna Hercha, Zoe Theoharis, Vera Sampson and Adams chose to stay.

The gym has reopened evenings, but the school will not reopen until ''a safe, secure and supportive education environment has been established,'' Mason said.

Mason said a town meeting Friday attended by about 200 people was a positive step. He hopes to schedule another meeting this week.

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