Alaskan sisters plead with Canada to let them go to school in B.C.

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It’s back to school this week for students in Stewart, B.C., but five Alaskan kids who were due to join them this year are stranded at home after pandemic restrictions essentially shut the border between two remote cross-border communities that are found side by side and are usually intertwined.Right now, people are only allowed to cross the border between Hyder, Alaska and Stewart, British Columbia, for essential travel or they must comply with two-week quarantine requirements.

For two American sisters, this means there is no school as the only one in Hyder has just closed due to low enrollment.

So Hilma and Ellie Korpela – though sad to lose their favorite teacher Ms. Tiffany – were all set to start classes at a new school on September 10 just across the border in Stewart, BC.

Bear Valley School is the only school near them, and American attendance was approved by District 82 of the Coast Mountains School Board.

‘I just want to go to school, I’m so bored’

The girls say they couldn’t wait to meet their new teacher.

“It’s the one thing I want the most, other than the border opening,” said eight-year-old Ellie Korpela.

But when their friends from British Columbia went to class, they couldn’t due to COVID-19 border rules in place since March 21. Any American who passes through Stewart, BC, must self-isolate for 14 days, preventing the sisters from joining. their Canadian classmates.

The pandemic restrictions have caused a myriad of problems in the two cities where people often own land or work on either side. Only three teenagers live in Hyder, so many have been cut off from their friends in Stewart.

“I feel sad that I cannot join [my friends]. I just want to go to school. I got so bored, ”said Hilma Korpela, 10.

Hilma Korpela, 10, lives in Hyder, Alaska, but was due to start grade 5 in Stewart, BC this week with her friends. COVID-19 has changed that. (Submitted by Nick Korpela)

Their father, Nick Korpela, works in Canada on a work permit and pays Canadian taxes. He is trying to buy a house in Stewart and has applied for permanent residence to move his family there, but the pandemic has also stalled that process.

He said it was hard to see his vibrant daughters so disappointed and unable to start Grades 3 and 5.

“Yeah, that’s a bummer,” said Hilma, who misses out on playing hockey and spending time with her friends. She said it had been a struggle during the lockdown with so few children on the Hyder side of the border.

She spends a lot of time with her little sister who loves to read and do art and carpentry. The two are close, but also very different and miss their respective friends.

“I try not to put myself on Ellie’s bad side,” Hilma said. “We try not to get too angry with each other. “

The committee proposes a cross-border bubble

A group of adults gathered on Friday to try to pressure Canada to have Alaskan students join their classmates.

They have been pushing for months for Canada’s Public Safety Minister Bill Blair to authorize a sort of cross-border “bubble” so that the two communities can interact normally during the pandemic.

This satellite image shows the proximity of Hyder, Alaska, bottom left, to Stewart, BC (Google Maps)

“Doesn’t Mr. Blair know we’re all alone here?” Hilma asked.

The Hyder-Stewart Action Committee proposed a joint partnership between the two towns they call Bear Bubble, which would allow residents to cross the Stewart point of entry without limits.

Decisions “were not taken lightly”

The arrangement was approved by Canadian MPs Taylor Bachrach and Jack Harris, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, Governor Mike Dunleavy and Alaska State Legislature Representative Dan Ortiz.

A group of people who live in the tiny communities of Hyder, Alaska, and Stewart, British Columbia, came together on September 11 to urge Canada’s Minister of Public Safety to allow Alaskan children to attend the only school in the area, located in British Columbia. (Carly Ackerman / Hyder AK and Stewart BC Covid Action Committee)

“Five of Hyder’s children have received a harsh lesson in disappointment and bureaucracy,” the committee members wrote in a press release Thursday.

“COVID-19 border restrictions that locked Hyder residents for 173 days do not allow children to cross the border at Stewart to school, which the Government of Canada did not consider an essential reason to travel.

Cross-border students were exempted from quarantine requirements earlier this year, but that changed on August 7. Since then, even Canadian students crossing for studies have to meet the 14-day self-isolation requirements, according to a spokesperson for Blair.

“We have introduced significant restrictions at our borders to flatten the curve and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Canada. These decisions were not taken lightly, but they are necessary to keep Canadians safe, ”the spokesperson said in an email.

“We will continue to assess the best public health information we have in deciding when and how to reopen our border. This decision will be made in Canada, with the best interests of Canadians as a top priority. “

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