BETHEL, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska school district established a limited intranet system in an attempt to provide students with more reliable distance learning during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Lower Kuskokwim School District said every student has now received the hardware necessary for the intranet system, although a teacher said some homes are still not connected, KYUK-AM reported Tuesday.

“It’s a slow process because the actual hardware that families need to install on their home, it’s a self-install because of COVID, because of health mandates,” said Jeffrey Behselich, a science teacher in the village of Atmautluak.

Behselich said about a quarter of homes in the community are still not connected to the intranet system, which functions like a limited internet.

Lockdowns of communities in the southwestern Alaska district to slow the spread of the virus left students and families navigating the new technology without assistance. Teachers also had to learn the software and remotely provide instruction to students about its use, Behselich said.

“You know, how to log on, how to navigate it, knowing where to click, knowing which week you’re on how to access the content. All of that,” Behselich said.


Deployment of the district’s intranet was delayed for months, forcing schools to rely on paper packets. Many students withdrew from school activities as a result.

“I had a lot of students who just weren’t turning anything in,” said Samantha Enoch, a language arts teacher in Nunapitchuk. “I had students who, they were turning things in, but they were turning them in blank.”

Enoch suspects some of the students felt they were “on an island by themselves and going through this alone.”

“Just being handed paper packets and told to go for it,” Enoch said. “That is a pretty lonely, hard feeling to be in.”

Behselich said he hopes students will reengage with the school through the intranet and the Zoom video conference service, which has experienced widespread use by organizations and individuals since the start of the pandemic.

“I think the biggest thing is feeling connected,” Behselich said. “Being able to Zoom, just being able to see another person’s face, I think that’s gonna really bring the students back in.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.