VILLAGE OF OAK CREEK—Today, Congressman Tom O’Halleran (AZ-01) joined the voices of Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer in calling on the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) to honor tribal sovereignty and adhere to the Navajo Nation’s position that all federally operated schools under the control of BIE remain closed for face-to-face and in-classroom instruction for the entirety of the Fall 2020 semester.
“For too long this spring and summer, the Navajo Nation was the COVID-19 capital of America. Forced to wait months for CARES Act funding to arrive, the tribe was left to struggle without the federal dollars they were promised,” said O’Halleran. “The Navajo Nation is now finally beginning to lift stay-at-home and curfew orders as this viral spread slows. However, we are not out of the woods yet. I am joining my friends Jonathan and Myron in urging Interior and BIE to honor tribal sovereignty and the concerns of Navajo Nation parents in implementing distance learning over in-person instruction this fall. The health and safety of children across my district is, and will always be, my first priority.”
In their letter, Nez and Lizer explain that the Navajo Department of Diné Education (DODE) conducted an extensive community survey and learned that parents overwhelmingly support online learning, and fervently oppose in-person, face-to-face, and in-classroom learning.
O’Halleran joins Navajo parents, the Navajo Department of Diné Education, the Navajo Nation Board of Education, the Office of the President and Vice President, Navajo Nation communities, and the Navajo Nation Department of Health in supporting online learning at federally-operated BIE schools during the Fall of 2020 to protect the health and safety of Navajo children.
In July, O’Halleran introduced bipartisan legislation to extend the coverage of Coronavirus Relief Fund payments allocated under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to tribal governments from December 30, 2020 to December 30, 2022. The CARES Act was signed into law on March 27, 2020, allocating $8 billion for tribal governments under the Coronavirus Relief Fund. Tribes across America did not receive any funds until May 5, 2020, well after the bill’s statutory deadline. During this time, the Navajo Nation in Arizona’s First Congressional District became the most concentrated COVID-19 hotspot in the nation.