Families and teachers are feeling pressure to return students to classrooms, in spite of the highest COVID-19 case numbers seen since the pandemic started. The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District is operating in the “Red Operational Zone,” with most students learning from home. But the school board is asking for more options.
The “Red Zone” is defined by the state’s education department as 10 or more positive cases per 100,000 people, averaged over 14 days. In the Fairbanks North Star Borough and most of Interior Alaska, it is about four times that.
So the district has been on a mostly-remote model for about 11,000 out of 13,000 students. Others are being homeschooled and some special-needs students are getting in-person learning in small cohorts.
Superintendent Karen Gaborik told the board at this week’s meeting that she’s trying to coordinate other options.
“As new board members have come on, and listening to campaigns and comments, we recognize that there’s definitely some interest in expanding access to our schools in the Red zone.”
The administration has been hearing from frustrated parents and teachers who worry that kids aren’t learning. At the same time it is hearing from families and staff members worried about schools being a vector for disease that kills older family members.
Kayla Morrison teaches 6th grade at Ladd Elementary.
“I do not think we are in any position to open schools in a red zone. There are too many staff members and students who are at high risk. My students are doing fine on remote learning. All of my students are engaged, my grades are the same as they almost always are, my students are socializing, they are working together, they are doing projects. And I’m talking with parents.”
Gaborik says the administration and board will share a worksession November 16 devoted entirely to options for the third-quarter.
She says she wants to give the board lots of data from two district-wide surveys as well as grade reports from the first quarter. Board members asked for more information. Jennifer Luke asked about students who have withdrawn or haven’t engaged in remote learning.
“ I would like to know, maybe, how many students we have struggled with getting engagement from. I would really like to know what those numbers are, because, we still have a responsibility to those students.”
The November 16 worksession will be open to the public. The board is hoping to vote on a plan for the third quarter by the December 2nd regular meeting.