Village school closed after principal is banished from Kipnuk

The village of Kipnuk in summer 2018 (Photo from Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development; Division of Community and Regional Affairs’ Community Photo Library)

Students in Kipnuk are without some of their school staff, after Alaska State Troopers responded over the weekend to the principal’s banishment from the village, located about 85 miles southwest of Bethel.

Starting this week, students at the Chief Paul Memorial School will shift to remote learning following an apparent dispute between the Lower Kuskokwim School District and the Kipnuk Traditional Council.

Two weeks ago, the council sent a letter to all Kipnuk households prohibiting children in the village of around 700 people from attending school, citing concerns for students’ safety.

On Monday, the school district released a statement announcing the school’s closure. It also cited concerns for the safety of students and staff. Kipnuk’s Traditional Council has not agreed to comment.

The reasons for the dispute are unclear, but class was canceled Monday and Tuesday. Students will shift to remote learning beginning Wednesday until further notice.

The school closure comes just days after the Kipnuk Traditional Council wrote a formal banishment letter to the school’s principal, LaDorothy Lightfoot, calling for her to leave the village on the noon flight on Friday.

According to a trooper dispatch, troopers received a call from the school district reporting that Lightfoot had locked herself in her office after village law enforcement tried to take her into custody “by serving a banishment order for unknown reasons.”

“It was reported that local community members and Kipnuk Tribal Police Officers were inside the school as well as LKSD teacher housing searching for the school principal,” the dispatch said.

Troopers said they tried to get in contact with local law enforcement and tribal leadership, but it was unsuccessful. Troopers arrived in Kipnuk Saturday to find the boardwalk between the airport and the village blocked. They were able to deescalate the situation and meet with the principal and staff at the school. The principal and other school staff chose to leave the village, according to troopers, and the district charted two flights for them.

The state district attorney’s office has been contacted. No crimes have been committed and no threats were made, according to troopers.

Kipnuk’s school will be closed to the public during remote learning. Some staff will teach remotely from Bethel.

KYUK - Bethel

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