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Teachers, Staff & Principals' Associations Question School Reopening

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Fairbanks Education Association

The associations that represent Fairbanks-area teachers, principals and support staff released a statement Friday opposing the opening of schools in January.

The Board of Education for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District voted a week ago to give students the option to return to in-person learning for the second semester. The board’s plan does not require schools to absolutely follow the CDC’s COVID-19 or the state of Alaska’s Smart Start guidelines for masking, social distancing and hygiene  -- the plan only “acknowledges” that schools will meet those guidelines “to the best of their abilities.”

The statement, released jointly by the Fairbanks Education Association (FEA), the Education Support Staff Association (ESSA), and the Fairbanks Principals Association (FPA), reads:

“On Monday, these guidelines from medical experts across the state and nation were cast aside without ensuring the safety of students, educators, and our communities.”

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Credit Education Support Staff Association

The three organizations together represent more than 1,500 employees in the district. Members had been making regular public comment to the school board since school started in August, but especially after the October municipal election, when two candidates who had campaigned on the issue of reopening schools were elected to the board.

The statement quotes Jasmine Adkins-Brown, the President of ESSA. She wrote: “Returning to in-person instruction remains a top priority of the Education Support Staff Association, but it must be done in a way that ensures the safety of all district employees and especially the students in our schools.”

State medical officers say if the Community could bring down its transmission rate, schools would be safer. If adults avoided indoor gatherings by closing bars and indoor dining, for example, schools would not be significant vectors for carrying the sickness.

Dr. Elizabeth Olsen, who has been working with school districts statewide, attended a recent board worksession. she said it is teens and adults, not young children, who are at greater risk from death or long-term damage from COVID-19 . But children are carriers.

“Kids under age 10 are a little less likely to spread it. But we know they can get it, they can spread it. It’s just a little less likely, it’s not a whole lot less likely unfortunately. Teenagers can get it at least as easily as adults, and spread it.”

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink attended the worksession, because the FNSB is one of the “Big-5” school districts in Alaska.

“When people take mitigation steps very seriously, and they do them well, we see very little transmission. And so when we have people masked, and we have people 6 feet apart, and they are not eating in break rooms together, and they aren’t all wrestling together we don’t see a lot of transmission but when we see people not take those mitigation steps, we see a lot of transmission.”

Schools will start on January 6, with only a handful of students in the buildings: those with special academic needs and those with poor internet access. Then on January 19 any elementary school students who wish to return could enter. Middle School students will be phased in January 25, and high school students February 1.

The second semester plan maintains the options for students to stay at home and learn remotely if they prefer. The E-learning correspondence school or the BEST homeschool program will continue as options for families who do not want their children in the school buildings.

Text of the statement:

Fairbanks Educators Share Concerns Over Reopening Plans

December 18, 2020

FAIRBANKS: Today, the Fairbanks Education Association (FEA), the Education Support Staff Association (ESSA), and the Fairbanks Principals Association (FPA) reacted with concern to the December 14 decision by the Fairbanks North Borough School District School Board to reopen public schools on January 19. Together, these groups represent over 1,500 FNSBSD employees.

FPA, FEA, and ESSA remain committed to returning to in-person instruction as soon as levels of community spread of COVID-19 drop below the “Red Zone” levels as prescribed in the Alaska Smart Start guidelines and reinforced by CDC recommendations. Local Smart Start plans were jointly developed with the FNSBSD, ESSA, FEA and FPA. On Monday, these guidelines from medical experts across the state and nation were cast aside without ensuring the safety of students, educators, and our communities.

“As a member-driven association, FEA has consistently said over and over, move slow to move fast, follow CDC guidelines, and respect the endless hours of work we’ve done to develop the state and local Smart Start plans,” said Sandi Ryan, President of FEA. “FEA’s members have expressed their concerns in surveys and public testimony before the school board time and time again. Unfortunately, that message was rejected by the FNSBSD School Board.”

“Returning to in-person instruction remains a top priority of the Education Support Staff Association, but it must be done in a way that ensures the safety of all district employees and especially the students in our schools,” said Jasmine Adkins-Brown, President of ESSA. “We have put in countless hours to develop our reopening and mitigation plans in good faith. It’s frustrating to have that work discarded and ignored while infection rates are near an all-time high.”

“Prior to the Special Meeting, the FPA board submitted a statement to the School Board recognizing all of the work at the state level by medical professionals to develop the guidelines, as well as the collaborative effort by educators creating plans to meet those guidelines at the local level,” said FPA President Sarah Gillam. “The FPA board acknowledged the integral role schools play in our community on many levels and believes that following the state guidance is essential to meet the safety and learning needs of our school communities.”

   The School Board’s decision disregarded the recommendations from both representatives from Fort Wainwright Army Base and Eielson Air Force base to keep school remote at current infection levels because of concerns over the impact of military mission readiness as well as the recommendations from FNSB Risk Management and contact tracing managers for lack of resources and adequate safety plans for the forthcoming rapid reopening.

  ESSA, FPA, and FEA look forward to a robust planning process that will maintain CDC and Alaska Smart Start guidelines in classrooms at every school in the District, with hopes that the School Board will take a more measured, cautious, and planned approach to safety protocols and advice from medical experts prior to January 19th.

Contact: fea@alaska.net; president@essaalaska.org; Sarah.Gillam@k12northstar.org

 

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