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‘We want to get back’: Three Interior School Districts to Return Students to Classrooms

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NEA-Alaska
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Three small school districts around the Interior plan to bring students back into the classroom next week, as long as the number of COVID-19 cases in the districts remains low.

The number of COVID-19 cases reported in communities within school districts based in Delta Junction, Healy and Tok went down over the holiday break. And that, along with strong support from parents and teachers, have convinced the districts’ officials that it’s time to bring students back in to classrooms.

“We want to get back in the buildings,” said Delta-Greely School Superintendent Shaun Streyle. “The community is definitely ready for that, and the staff as well. They’re really, really wanting to see our students back.”

Streyle says the district will operate under medium-risk precautions that will again strongly encourage students to wear facemasks, wash hands frequently and maintain social distance. And he says class periods will be lengthened, and more “overflow” rooms, like libraries and gymnasiums, will be used to avoid packing too many kids into a classroom.

“That has served us well in the past,” he said, “so that’s our plan moving forward next week.”

Alaska Gateway School Superintendent Scott MacManus says parents, students and staff in his district also are happy the schoolhouses will be busy again, beginning Jan. 18, under medium-risk precautions – after staff completes two weeks of isolation and testing, to limit the chances that people who’ve traveled over the holidays might expose others to the coronavirus.

“Quarantine for us begin on the 4th, for everybody,” he said. “All of my staff are testing – all of them, every single janitor to principal are testing. And, we’ll be tested when we start school.”

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Credit AGSD/Facebook
Alaska Gateway School District students also will return to classrooms next week. But it'll be a while before they can assemble as closely as these Tok School students did.

MacManus says district officials also will frequently test staff and students throughout the semester, and will continue requiring facemasks, handwashing and social distancing.

“We’ll be doing about half the staff every week, and about a third of the students every week,” he said.

Denali Borough School Superintendent Dan Polta says his district began classes this week, but kept students at home and online to limit the possibility of travelers transmitting the virus.

“The initial plan this first week (is) we’re in distance learning, just to allow return from travel,” he said.

Polta says district officials are encouraged that no cases of covid have been reported in the borough over the past two weeks. But he says they want to see more data showing no uptick in the numbers before bringing students back into classrooms. He says most parents in his district also want their kids back in schools. But some parents are opting to keep them at home, both because of health concerns and to avoid disrupting their learning by attending classes until a covid case sends them back home again.

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Credit Alaska Association of Secondary School Principals
Denali Borough School District officials say they'll bring students back into classrooms this semester once they ensure the number of COVID-19 cases in the borough remains low. Last spring, the district honored graduates like these at Anderson School in imaginative ways that complied with health precautions.

“People have said ‘Y’know, health reasons, disruption reasons – I’m going to homeschool (my child) or I’m going to take the district’s remote  (distance learning) option,’ ” he said.

Polta says district officials plan to keep students at home and online through next week. But he says a covid-advisory committee will meet this afternoon to review the data to determine whether it supports returning students back to the classroom sooner.