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School Board Grapples with COVID and Re-entry

Zoom screeen shot

With three weeks left until Winter Break, schools in Fairbanks are looking to next semester. At its meeting Tuesday, the school board for Fairbanks North Star Borough School District heard plans for getting more kids physically into classrooms, even while the area is in the COVID “Red” zone. But the board could not agree, and will take up the discussion again next Tuesday night.

Assistant Superintendent Kate LaPlaunte told the board the best idea is to continue the phase-in plan that was approved in October. (October 6) Most elementary schools are already on this plan to gradually increase the number of kids coming to classes.
“Recommend staying the course. Follow CDC guidelines, with most kids learning remotely, and only the highest-needs students in the buildings.”
In November, the board asked the administration to develop a more aggressive approach that has more children in the classrooms, to get the advantages of in-person learning, and take a load off parents. They asked for a plan where schools could operate while the community is in the COVID “Red” zone, with a lot of community transmission of the disease. Board member April Smith:
“Just get as many kids who want to be in school, into school as possible.”
The Administration presented a more aggressive approach for elementary and secondary schools that grouped students into smaller cohorts of 8 children in elementary schools, 19 in middle schools and 30 for high schools. The plans require students to wear face masks, wash hands and stay apart while they do some online schoolwork in the classroom, proctored by teachers and staff. But it complied with CDC and state DEED guidelines, so would not allow all students to return.
“I don’t believe that this plan is good for our students. And with that being said, I have a plan that should at least be heard.”
Board member Matthew Sampson was among some who want the administration to return all students to schools, even if that violates state and federal guidelines. So, the board temporarily put aside the “Red Zone” plans.
“I move the immediate resumption of in-person school Jan 6, for any and all K-6th students who choose to participate in a traditional brick and mortar setting.”
Sampson says he wants the board to at least discuss the idea in public. He says some parents have been asking for this since March, the last time most students were in their buildings. April Smith agreed:
“The proposals that are before us don’t feel like any choice. And what Mr. Sampson is proposing is radically different, and I would like to be talked into or out of that proposal by the professionals that will have to implement that plan.”
Sampson didn’t have the mechanics for a complete re-entry worked out, so Smith asked the administration to work on it. The board will meet next Tuesday evening, December 8, for a worksession on the full reentry plan.

The board is also meeting at a worksession on Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to noon, but that meeting's agenda focuses on orientation for new board members.