Students in Fairbanks will be allowed to return to classroom buildings in January.
By a narrow 4-3 vote, the Fairbanks North Star Borough school board last night passed a motion to return students to school buildings after a two-week prep and quarantine period.
Schools will start on Wednesday, January 6, 2021 but in the same manner as the first semester ended, with only students who attended school during 2nd quarter in the buildings for the first two weeks of the spring semester. Then, school buildings will open January 19 for any elementary school students who wish to return. Middle School students will be phased in over the following week and high school students will be phased in by February 1.
The plan maintains the options for students to stay at home and learn remotely. Families who signed up with E-learning correspondence school or the BEST homeschool program will be allowed to keep those options. Families can change their mode of schooling to fit their students by working with the schools. It is best to make any changes at the quarter or semester.
The controversial element of the board’s plan is that it does not require schools to absolutely follow the CDC’s or the state’s Smart Start guidelines for masking, social distancing and hygiene. Board member Jennifer Luke added language that “acknowledges” that schools will meet those guidelines “to the best of their abilities.”
That was too loose for member Erin Morrotti.
“The words, ‘best of their abilities’ that’s super vague. Ms. Luke needs to clarify what she means by that.”
“Yeah, absolutely. With the high schools, we will attempt to ensure that we have the 6 foot distance. That’s the only place I’m looking at that. Because I believe that we can keep those numbers from what was shown to me in elementary and middle schools.”
Luke says she is confident elementary and middle schools would not be crowded because not every family will have children return.
According to surveys of about 6,000 families conducted in the first quarter of the school year, about half reported that they would return to school buildings if CDC and state guidelines could be followed. But now the administration will have to estimate how many students would actually return.
The plan puts the burden on school principals to figure out how best to configure their schools to accommodate students who want to return, and keep them as disease-free as possible.
The three advisory representatives from the Army, the Air Force (Colonel Stuart Williamson) and the district’s students (Cassidy Welsh) all voted against the measure. Colonel Christopher Ruga, represents families on Fort Wainwright.
“Both installations have documented cases of child-to-child COVID transmission, and child-to-parent COVID transmission, and on both installations, is has impacted our mission.”
It’s not clear if military COVID protocols will supersede the district’s policy and prevent students from entering the handful of school buildings on Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base.
The board received 280 comments from the public about the return-to-school plan since their meeting last week.
The board took up all other cohort or phase-in plans on it’s agenda last night, only to table them indefinitely.
The district’s COVID-19 dashboard shows only the cases reported by families since the start of school in August. It shows 47 students and 107 adults have tested positive for COVID-19 in the district.