Travel restrictions ease between northern border communities, but U.S. kids still aren't back to class

·3 min read

Not many 10 year olds would scream with glee about going back to school but that is exactly how Hyder, Alaska, resident Hilma Korpela says she reacted when she heard the news.

Korpela is one of very few school-aged children living in the American community of 63 residents just three kilometres away from Stewart, B.C., where she attended school before the COVID-19 pandemic. Border closures meant students were unable to cross into Canada until Oct. 30 when the federal government relaxed that restriction for remote northern communities.

"I was completely and utterly excited," Korpela told CBC, adding she has only her sister and two other kids in Hyder to play with.

But while going back to school has been green lit, the logistics of how to actually get Korpela to the classroom are still a challenge.

Tdevries/CC/Wikimedia Commons
Tdevries/CC/Wikimedia Commons

Janet Meyer, superintendent of the Coast Mountain School District in northwestern B.C., told CBC's Daybreak North school staff are excited to welcome Hyder students, but they are waiting on a plan from provincial health officials before they can do so.

That plan, said Meyer, will provide the necessary guidance on how to handle a school exposure and how to move students across the border safely on a daily basis.

Meyer said she expects to have that information soon.

The other obstacle to overcome, said Meyer, is finding a driver to transport the students by bus.

School bus driver needed

Federal Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair has said people travelling between the two communities do not need to quarantine after crossing the border and that one driver is permitted to take the children to and from school.

Finding a qualified bus driver who wants to work during the pandemic, according to Meyer, has not been easy.

"We are thinking outside the box is what we're doing," said Meyer regarding finding a solution to the problem.

The superintendent said one way is to certify a new driver, so she has been in conversations with licensing providers in B.C. because there are very few road test appointments available.

"We reached out to local Service B.C. and were responded to very positively," said Meyer, who managed to secure a few appointments in Williams Lake which is over 900 kilometres south of Stewart.

Hyder-Stewart Action Committee
Hyder-Stewart Action Committee

A town hall meeting will be held for residents of both communities on Nov. 9 to discuss the return to school and what safety plans are in place.

And Meyer hopes that return will be "as soon as humanly possible".

"We embrace Hyder like it's our own," she said.

People in the area have been calling for changes to travel restrictions for months.

The president of the Hyder Community Association, Wes Loe, said people in the community were relieved when the rules were relaxed, especially children like Korpela who are longing for school and socialization.

"Stewart and Hyder, it's like one community with a border in between. We celebrate weddings. We celebrate births. It's one community, then all of a sudden seven and a half months ago they put a wall there."

Loe said the rule change is what residents in the remote communities needed.

"It's a good feeling in the community. It's a positive feeling."

Tap here to hear more from Janet Meyer on CBC's Daybreak North.