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Schools report minimal COVID cases but remain vigilant

Schools and parents throughout the White Mountains and across the state continue to adjust, on-the-fly, as COVID-19 cases fluctuate. Local schools have reported minimal cases among students and staff, with few exceptions.

Metro Creative  

People throughout the White Mountains and across the state continue to adjust, on-the-fly, as COVID-19 cases fluctuate. Local schools have reported minimal cases among students and staff, with few exceptions.

Many schools are small enough to manage social distancing or are using a hybrid model of in-person and distance learning. Some school districts, like Whiteriver Unified, have remained online since the school year began in August.

Blue Ridge Unified School District sent a notice to staff, parents and guardians Monday which informed them that a fifth-grade teacher tested positive for COVID-19. Due to possible exposure, “their entire class will remain at home on ‘symptoms watch’ until November 30,” stated the letter.

Thursday morning parents were notified of two Blue Ridge High School students who have tested positive - still a relatively small number in a district that serves over 2,160 students. 

An elementary student of another class was also placed on ‘symptoms watch’ after a family member tested positive.

They carefully implemented a grade-by-grade return to in-person learning for K-6 grades only. (The junior high and high schools remain on a hybrid, Monday through Thursday schedule.)

Three students tested positive in September. Two students (one former and one current) tested positive for COVID-19 in late October but neither attended school for more than a week in advance of testing positive.

Those five cases have been the only incidents since the fifth-grade teacher tested positive.

BRUSD Superintendent Dr. Michael L. Wright warned parents to be prepared for all grades to return to online-only learning should the community cases continue on the upward trajectory.

“… given the rapid spread of the virus nationwide, our schools may suffer an outbreak,” wrote Wright. “Therefore, we recommend parents/guardians prepare for a possible return to K-12 online-only learning ...”

Concho Elementary School in Apache County serves K-8 students and had not had any reported cases.

Heber/Overgaard — The Heber/Overgaard Unified School District serves about 500 students. They began district-wide in-person classes in October

The district has had no staff cases but reported two students who tested positive at the end of October.

“Mainly what we are seeing here in our District is that several parents of our students have tested positive and we are asking those students who have been exposed by their parents stay home from school,” said Superintendent Ron Tenney. “Thursday is our last day of school until after Thanksgiving so we are hoping things will slow down after we get back Nov 30th.”

Northern Arizona Academy, a small, charter school in Taylor, closed for two days to deep clean after an office staff member tested positive.

“All other staff members and teachers were tested at that time and all tested negative,” said director Amy Carlyle. “So far no students have tested positive.”

Sequoia Village School (SVS), in Linden, has been open for in-person instruction but only one staff member has tested positive for the virus. That case was reported back in September so the small K-12 EdKey school is still holding its own.

“We have some students who are still working from home,” said SVS Principal Tony Rhineheart. “Our task force meets weekly and we are watching the situation here and across the state.”

“It is a challenging time for all our schools and families,” said Rhineheart.

Show Low Unified School District (SLUSD) is slightly larger than Blue Ridge, serving 2,500 students. On-site classes began in August, as well as distance learning options.

“Since August 15, we have had 8 reported cases,” said SLUSD Superintendent Shad Housley in an email Tuesday, Nov. 17. “In each of the situations we worked closely with the County Health Department to implement our mitigation plan. We have not had a confirmed case in two weeks.”

Snowflake Unified School District serves 2,500 students and includes includes the towns of Snowflake and Taylor. The district has reported only two recent cases.

“Even though cases are quickly rising in our communities outside of school, we have had two students test positive in the last five weeks,” said SUSD Superintendent Hollis Merrell.

St. Johns Unified School District (SJUSD) serves just over 800 students. The district issued an informational letter to staff, parents and the community, Tuesday, Nov. 17.

The letter addressed the rise in coronavirus cases in the White Mountain community and across the state in recent weeks.

The letter does not specifically address the Oct. 23 incident in which up to 100 students were thought to have been exposed to a positive case. The Friday, Oct. 23 football game and homecoming events were cancelled but school resumed in-person classes on Oct. 26.

“Coinciding with this rise, we have had individuals within the St. Johns Unified School District test positive,” states the letter. “However, we have taken the necessary actions to ensure the health and safety of our students and staff.”

The letter says that individuals who have tested positive have been instructed to quarantine “and will not be permitted on campus until the quarantine period has expired and they are symptom-free.”

The school district said they are working closely with the Apache County Public Health Department on contact tracing and follow-up protocols.

The letter also clarified that St. Johns Unified School District is not closing at this time.

The district cited literature published by the CDC titled, The Importance of Reopening America’s Schools, which alleges that “the best available evidence indicates if children become infected [with COVID-19], they are far less likely to suffer severe symptoms.”

The CDC information referenced by the school district also stated, “... the harms attributed to closed schools on the social, emotional, and behavioral health, economic well-being, and academic achievement of children, in both the short- and long-term, are well known and significant.”

The Independent asked for details regarding the Oct. 23 incident but was referred to the Apache County Attorney’s Office.

Vernon Elementary School District (VESD) serves pre-K through eighth grade students and has not had a reported case of COVID-19 among students or staff.

Whiteriver Unified School District (WUSD) has opted not to move into Phase 2 of their “Return to Learn.” This coincides with the White Mountain Apache Tribe’s stay-at-home orders and curfew.

{p class=”p1”}” ... the community positivity rate increased so the governing board approved for WUSD to stay in Phase 1 until the end of our first semester,” said WUSD Superintendent Jennifer Plath.

Details emerge about Jaikin murder case

VERNON—James P. Jaikin, 34 of Vernon appeared in the Apache County Superior Court Monday to answer two allegations that he committed second degree murder, a Class 1 Felony and tampering with evidence, a Class 6 Felony in connection with the shooting death of his neighbor, David Anthony Morales on September 3 at approximately 8:45 in the evening according to court records. The men’s homes were about 200 yards apart but they apparently didn’t known each other. Jaikin is presumed by law to be innocent.

Courtesy ACSC video  

Jay Jaikin (in stripes) with his attorney Ron Wood on Monday.

Jaikin is being held on a $500,000 bond in the county jail since his arrest on September 3, and still hasn’t had a preliminary hearing to establish probable cause for the charges which is a violation of his rights and is in contravention of court rules, according to his attorney Ronald Wood.

The curtain opened on this case when the Apache County regional emergency operators received a 911 call from Morales saying that he had been shot in the shoulder by his neighbor whom Morales didn’t know, and that Morales was lying in the dirt outside Morales’s home along County Road 8299. Vernon Fire responded.

According to one of the probable cause statements filed in support of search warrants, while Apache County Deputies were enroute, they learned that someone named by deputies as “Steven” was on scene performing CPR on Morales and that the victim was “turning white and having a hard time breathing,” that Morales had been “shot in the chest near David’s nipple.” He was later pronounced dead there.

The deputies’ statements are replete with references to “Steven;” he appears to be an important witness. But there are three Stevens named variously as Steven Hook, Steven Hooker and Steven Easton. Whether the names are meant to indicate three, two or just one Steven is glaringly unclear and probably frustrating to the reader.

As best as can be understood, when deputies first arrived they noted the responders attending to Morales and “two subjects who were washing their hands with water and assisting Vernon Fire personnel by holding flashlights.” One of the subjects was Jaikin. Vernon Fire told deputies that Jaikin had driven up to Morales’ home and appeared intoxicated, and had injuries to his face, ear, lip and mouth.

Deputies questioned him about his injuries and Jaikin reportedly told them that he gotten them when something hit him while he was riding his dirt bike along CR 8235, but that he didn’t remember much. He said he called a friend whom deputies named as Steven Easton to give Jaikin a ride home. Jaikin denied knowing anything about Morales.

By contrast, Steven Hook or Hooker reportedly told the deputies that he was at home when Jaikin called him “frantically” asked him to come to Jaikin’s house, because Jaikin needed help, that “I shot someone.” Steven said that Jaikin was covered in blood and when Steven asked Jaikin whose blood was on him, Jaikin replied “it’s his,” and “he’s been shot help him.” The statement said that Jaikin handed Steven a gun covered with blood. Steven then said that from Jaikin’s residence, Steven walked through the bushes to Morales’ home next door and Jaikin’s girlfriend followed him. Steven said he called out to Morales asking permission to come on the property; Morales reportedly responded that “He needed help and said he was dying.”

The girlfriend is apparently Jaikin’s ex-wife; they apparently reconciled and according to court records, lived together with four children on two lots in a site-built cabin. She told deputies that on September 3 she was lying in bed when Jay heard music playing in the distance. The s tatement said that the girlfriend had told Steven that Jaikin “started freaking out,” and she told deputies that Jay left the house and told her that “he was leaving to make new friends.” He returned covered in blood and she saw him hand a gun to Steven when Steven arrived at the their residence.

A second probable cause statement filed with the court has a second deputy identifying “Steven” as the Steven Easton whom Jaikin said he called about the dirt bike incident. As stated, whether that’s the same Steven that the first deputy calls Steven Hooker or Steven Hook is unknown, but the second deputy reported that Steven Easton saw Jaikin get into Jaikin’s truck as Easton pulled up to the Jaikin home. That Steven saw the emergency lights nearby and told Jaikin that Steven would “bring him over to the cops to talk to them.” Jaikin reportedly said that “I can’t go to jail, I just got my family back.”

The two charges against Jaikin arise from the authorities’ belief that Jaikin killed Morales, and that Jaikin tampered with evidence by cleaning blood off himself and changing clothes. Regarding confusion with the Stevens’ names, it is noteworthy the county attorney’s office brought the charges against “James Jaikin;” Defense counsel Wood had to inform the court that his client’s name is actually Jay Jaikin.

The case is now set for a contested preliminary hearing. The parties hope that the deceased’s autopsy report will be finished by then. Wood told the judge on Monday that there were a number of firearms found and the identification of the particular caliber of the bullet is important. The next court date is December 10.

Show Low man sells marijuana seeds

SHOW LOW — Michael Moss turned one of the worst times of his life into a profitable nationwide business.

Moss, of Show Low, had a series of surgeries in 2014 and 2015 and was dealing with a lot of pain, so he turned to marijuana to help him cope.

Michael Moss, owner of MossMSeeds.com, stands with his wrapped Lexus. Moss, of Show Low, sells marijuana seeds online as ‘collector items.’

“I tried to buy some seeds from somebody in 2016 and I got ripped off,” Moss said. “When I got ripped off, it upset me enough to where I wanted to become a trusted seed dealer, that everyone knows and can confide in. They know they’re not going to get ripped off.”

Moss said he began by breeding his own marijuana and getting in contact with other breeders.

“I start by building a relationship with other breeders throughout the United States. We have built a tight bond, and I have their seeds on my website,” he said.

Mossmseeds.com can legally sell and ship marijuana seeds by declaring them as “collector items,” according to Moss.

“They are legally sold as souvenirs and as collector items. They are collector items for preservation. Here in Arizona, we just passed a law for recreational. Somewhere around April or May when Arizona is comfortable with growing (marijuana), we will be handing out a bunch of free seeds. We will help Arizona grow again,” Moss said.

One thing Moss has planned is opening a marijuana-growing school to teach others proper growing and harvesting methods.

“We will have people like myself and people who have been growing it help who ever wants to get involved from start to finish — from the germination process all the way to cutting it down, jarring it properly and burping it to make all good natural home-grown medicine. You can do it all at home in your own garden,” Moss said.

Moss said the U.S. Postal Service hasn’t come down on him for mailing marijuana seeds across the nation.

“I go in there with my hat and shirt on,” he said, adding both display his company’s logo prominently. “They know who I am, and I am legally allowed to sell seeds and mail them because they are collectors items. They are sold as novelty items,” he said.

Moss maintains that buying and selling marijuana seeds is completely legal across the nation.

Moss recommends that his customers not plant the seeds unless they have the proper growing licenses or are at least 21 years old and authorized by the state they live in to grow it.

“I have been an advocate of the legalization of recreational marijuana for quite a while. I feel that some doctors are poisoning us with prescription medication. I see people who are zombies. With this all-natural alternative medicine, such as CBD and THC, there are separate ways to get these beneficial properties without really poisoning your body,” Moss said.

There is a strong disclaimer on the company’s website:

Must be 21 to shop this site.

MossMseeds Disclaimer Legality:

Seeds are sold as souvenirs, for strain preservation, and until the time when laws change nationwide. Germination of seeds is still illegal in some states. Federally, cannabis growing is in a legal gray area.

Be informed before you purchase. By purchasing, you are indicating that you are at least 21 years of age, and are aware of your local laws regarding growing this plant. You waive any liability against MossMseeds. If you act outside your laws, we will not be held liable. MossMseeds does not condone anyone to breaking laws in their state/location.

Your Responsibilities:

It’s your responsibility to provide correct shipping information when you submit your order. We will ship to the address and contact information provided. Should your package not arrive due to failure to provide correct and legal information, we will not be held responsible.

Use of an alias, or alternate recipient name could result in non-delivery. We will not re-ship.

Return/Refund Policy

MossM Seeds guarantees that your package will arrive, as expected, in good condition, with exception to non-delivery as stated above. Purchases are non-returnable.

Snowflake couple arrested in connection with overdose death

SNOWFLAKE — Navajo County Sheriff’s deputies have arrested two people in connection with a Fentanyl overdose death of a 44-year-old man in Snowflake.

Police responding to a call of a dead man in a residence in the 1000 block of Eagar Avenue ended up arresting two other people in a different residence for possession of and selling highly dangerous drugs (possibly fentanyl) capable of killing in just small doses.

When STPD police got to the home of 44-year-old Logan McCray, they found him dead and started an investigation which led them to determine he likely died of a drug overdose.

Working with local Major Crimes Apprehension Team (MCAT) detectives, and after getting a search warrant from a Navajo County Superior Court judge to search the home of Frank (71) and Shanna (51) Aldrich in the 500 block of Main Street, Frank and Shanna were booked into the Navajo County Jail charged with possession of a narcotic drug, possession of a narcotic drug for sale and sales of narcotic drugs.

NCSO photo 

Shanna Aldrich

NCSO photo 

Frank Aldrich

A press release from Navajo County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Tori Gorman stated that when MCAT detectives searched the Aldrich’s residence they found counterfeit Hydrocone pills believed to actually be fentanyl along with $2,730 in cash believed to be derived from drug sales and other undisclosed evidence of alleged drug sales.

“It should be noted both Shanna and Frank Aldrich are currently out on bond stemming from felony drug and weapons charges in July of 2020,” Gorman included in the press release.

A check of the inmate roster at the Navajo County Jail Wednesday, Nov. 18 showed them both still in custody at the jail in Holbrook.

Investigators are looking into what Gorman called a possible connection between McCray’s overdose death and the Aldrich’s alleged drug sales.

Reach the reporter at mleiby@wmicentral.com

Navajo Nation in lockdown through Dec. 6

NAVAJO NATION — The Navajo Nation continued to be slammed with new coronavirus cases in recent weeks. The nation’s administration issued a three-week lockdown and curfew to help prevent spread of the virus among its members.

Navajo Nation President Johnathan Nez & Vice President Miron Lizer Facebook page 

The lockdown began Monday, Nov. 16 and continues through Dec. 6. The reservation covers over 2,700 square miles, spanning across Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. There are a total of 55 communities with “uncontrolled spread.”

The lockdown began Monday, Nov. 16. The reservation covers over 2,700 square miles, spanning across Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. There are a total of 55 communities with “uncontrolled spread.”

“Uncontrolled spread” is the phrase that has been put back into play regarding the increase in cases since mid November.

On Wednesday, the Navajo Epidemiology Center and the Navajo Area Indian Health Service, reported 197 new cases, bringing the number of positive cases to 13,744. There have been 605 deaths since tracking began in the spring.

Reports also indicate that 8,011 individuals have recovered from COVID-19 and over 141,000 tests have been administered to Navajo Nation residents.

The rise of daily cases is fast approaching the number of daily cases the Navajo Nation was experiencing in May, so tribal leaders are taking action through the lockdown. In addition to asking residents to stay home, business hours have been restricted from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., daily.

There were 238 new cases on May 13. On Nov. 13, there were 172 news cases. That number spiked again on Tuesday, Nov. 17 with 197 new cases.

The new lockdown extends through the Thanksgiving holiday up to Dec. 6. Tourism through the reservation is highly discouraged and those driving through must do just that — drive thru without stopping. Movement by tribal members in and out of the service areas of Chinley, Crownpoint, Ft. Defiance, Gallup, Kayenta, Shiprock, Tuba City and Winslow is also restricted by the stay-at-home order.

Schools must remain in online-only mode which is a challenge because of the lack of infrastructure and internet services on the reservation.

Last week, the New Mexico portion of the Navajo Nation broke a record for the number of new cases in one day.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer have routinely posted updated case numbers and updates on the Nation’s Facebook page. They have held town hall meetings and interviewed with multiple national media outlets including CNN.

“All of the data indicates that it is going to get worse before it gets better, but each one of us has the ability to help change that trend,” wrote Nez and Lizer via Facebook. “We have to use what we learned during the first wave of COVID-19 that devastated our Nation in April and May.”

The message is clear from Navajo leaders — stay home, even during the Thanksgiving holiday.

“We cannot keep making the same mistakes by traveling off the Navajo Nation and bringing the virus home,” said Nez. “We can’t keep having family and social gatherings and expect everything to be okay.”

Navajo and Apache


There have been 7,295 cases in Navajo County since reporting began. 64 new cases were reported on Wednesday, 16 of which are off-tribal lands. That means 48 of the 64 new cases for Wednesday are on the Navajo Nation which is roughly 75%.

There have been 4,564 cases in Apache County since reporting began. 76 new cases were reported on Wednesday but the number of off-tribal cases is not available.

The Arizona Department of Health Services (AzDHS) reported 95 new cases in Apache County on Tuesday. It is unclear how many of that total are cases on the Navajo Nation, but the daily increase in new cases is alarming because it is higher than neighboring Navajo County.

The Independent reached out to Apache County Public Health director, Preston Rabin, about the recent increase in daily cases.

“The numbers are always a bit different between the AzDHS site and ours simply because of their data sources,” said Rabin. “With our numbers, we wait for all facilities (in the south end of the county) that are testing to get us their numbers daily, then we post them directly.”

Rabin acknowledged that “the numbers are higher than we are accustomed to ... but they are high all across the state, it’s not just us,” he said. “COVID is in our communities, and folks are being tested at a much higher frequency then before due to the fact that there are many who are having COVID-like symptoms here in our communities.”