Slana School -- Another Copper River School Faces Possible Closure


Schools all across Alaska with fewer than 25 students are possibly in danger of being closed for financial reasons as the state tightens its belt due to low oil prices. Rumors are circulating that the Alaska State Legislature wants to increase the minimum number of students in a school that gets state funding.

Twenty-five school districts, including the Copper River School District, could be on the block. That would total 65 new possibly closed schools, statewide -- in addition to schools that have already closed throughout Alaska in past years. Pro-rural school advocates on a new Facebook site dedicated to keeping the schools open have published a list of all schools that fall below the 25 student limit.

One of the schools that might close down is remote Slana School, which has 18 students -- 7 of them Alaska Native or "minority" pupils.

Slana School students live at least 80 miles one way from Glennallen School. It was the most far-flung of the Copper Valley's schools.

In the past twenty years many smaller schools in the Copper River School District have already been closed. First to go were Lottie Sparks School (Nelchina) and Paxson School.

More recently, three schools with large Native Athabascan student ratios have gone off the grid:  Gakona School (which also served Gulkana Village), Chistochina School, and Copper Center School. All have shuttered their doors.

Cantwell School -- which is not in the Copper Valley, but which is also an Ahtna Region School --  is also in danger of closure, with 17 students.

Providing schooling to children in Alaska's rural communities has always been a problem. After Alaska became part of the United States, young students frequently were sent away to school. White students could be sent away to boarding schools, often in the Lower 48.

Native students were also frequently sent to boarding schools -- in Alaska. Many went to the Wrangell Institute. Jesse Lee School and Sheldon Jackson School. Or even to the Copper Valley's own Catholic boarding school, in Copper Center (which was later abandoned and eventually burned down during the Pipeline Years.) Today, analysts and people who attended those boarding schools have mixed emotions about those years, in which children were removed from their families and homes and sent away to school -- some for their entire childhoods.

To counteract this, the "Molly Hootch" case, a 1972 lawsuit against the state-operated school system and the problems of boarding schools, ensured that regulations allowed local schools to be built throughout rural Alaska.

Although a new 25-student limit bill hasn't been drafted yet, the fears that multiple schools will be closing statewide -- in places like Cordova, Hope, Dot Lake, Tanacross, Diomede, Moose Pass and elsewhere -- is bringing about a flashmob of action. A teacher at a school called Twin Hills put together a Facebook page that rallied 2015 AFN Convention participants. At this time, the Alaska Federation of Natives forms the most cohesive, well-organized and powerful lobby on behalf of rural Alaska culture.

The Facebook page triggered complaints about social and family damage to communities around Alaska that had already experienced school closures.  One mother of students who had attended a now- closed school wrote that she didn't want to home school her children... "So we moved out for the winter that was a very hard few months.. I think it's so wrong to force us to do online class or move. Most families here own their homes and to leave to another place it's too costly..."

Recent Local Communities With School Closures


Copper Center 

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