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Kivalina: Back to school Monday with lost month to make-up

The Kivalina seawall after the November 2011 storm.
Photo courtesy Janet Mitchell
The coastal village of Kivalina in Northwestern Alaska
U.S. Coast Guard photo
The Kivalina seawall in 2009.
Peter Law photo
The narrow village of Kivalina in 2009.
Peter Law photo
The remote Alaska village of Kivalina in winter.
Alaska Dispatch staff
An old church bell in Kivalina in 2009.
Peter Law photo
A honeybucket dump in the Northwest Alaska village of Kivalina in 2009.
Peter Law photo
A whalebone arch in the Northwest Alaska village of Kivalina in 2009.
Peter Law photo
A sandbar off Kivalina, Alaska
Tony Hopfinger photo
McQueen School with children playing on the playground in September 2011.
The Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment photo

Nearly a month after an early fall storm and subsequent flood took out a section of its water pipe, the city of Kivalina is finally nearing the home stretch of repairs to its water supply.

While many will be relieved to have a potable water source back in the village, the more notable implication of being on the mend is the ability to start the school year.

Kivalina's student body and nine teachers have been unable to use their classrooms while the community's water source was still compromised.

In the interim, teachers were farmed out to neighboring villages, pitching in while they waited for their school to be given the thumbs up for operation.

With a school start date slated for Monday, Sept. 24, this puts them almost a month behind the rest of the Northwest Arctic schools.

Superintendent Norman Eck is pleased to be able to open the school, but getting back on track won't be a simple task.

"There's no way to have 20 days of school missed and think about catching it up," Eck said. "They're just simply going to be working more days. They have to."

As far as how that will happen, they won't really know until they can get parents, teachers, district officials and students all together to make a plan.

"It's going to take months before they can possibly sync with the district," Eck said. "It could be we have to run school three or four weeks longer this year."

For now, Eck said, he's just happy to be opening the doors. Until class has started, kids are in the building and school is in its usual swing, he can't evaluate exactly where they are and what the best course will be.

"I want to visit with the students and get an agreement all the way around," Eck said.

He will also be visiting with the Department of Education and the Commissioner of Education, consulting them on what best policy to follow to make sure Kivalina's students are on track.

At the city, they were still hard at word mid-week filling the water tanks with the repaired pipe.

"We continue to pump water but the river and lagoon ices up on occasion," said city administrator Janet Mitchell. "We remain optimistic that we'll completely fill the tanks. Once (the) DEC receives our samples taken from the school, we will be taken off of the boil water notice."

Kivalina declared a disaster after the August flood, and have been collecting aid from a variety of resources as they worked on getting repairs. The Northwest Arctic Borough provided some bottled water subsidies, allowing families with small children and elderly to pick up water from the local store. Bottled water donations were flown in, and Red Dog Mine shipped potable water when it could via a 500-gallon tank loaded onto a small boat.

A temporary vinyl pipe repair had operators frustrated with leaks and slow progress last week, but they are slowly filling the tanks, Mitchell said.

This article was originally published by The Arctic Sounder and is reprinted here with permission. Hannah Heimbuch can be reached at hheimbuch(at)reportalaska.com.