Return to School Plan Includes Distancing, Small Groups

Jul 2, 2020

Schools in Fairbanks and North Pole will look very different this fall. Students are expected to return to The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District classrooms on August 19th or 20th, according to a Return to School plan that is still evolving. It hinges on the number of coronavirus cases in the community.

Superintendent Karen Gaborik unpacked a Return to School plan for K-12 students attending classes during a pandemic.

“If we can keep our school district healthy, and remember we have 13,500 kids and over 2,500 employees, so if we can keep our school district healthy then we can keep the community healthy.”

Gaborik talked about the plan for school return in a live, on-line broadcast Wednesday. It is based on the state of Alaska Department of Education and Early Development’s Smart Start plan that is color-coded for COVID risk.

“Green, Yellow and Red.”

As of today, none of the “Big Five” largest Alaska school districts fall into the “green, low-risk” category, defined as having no positive COVID-19 cases for two weeks.

The state is asking schools to keep kids apart, have them wash their hands frequently, limit their social bubbles, and at least for the older kids, wear masks.

 “Dr. McLaughlin, with State Epidemiology talks with superintendents about what we need to consider and he says, ‘you also have to look at wearing masks’.”

The pandemic has reshaped the calendar for the district. The schedule now has fewer classroom days this year but more days for staff to prepare.

Gaborik says teachers are prepping for moving between classroom and distance learning if the pandemic gets worse.

“We have to be able to move in between them, because there might be a phone call at night, where, ugh, a school’s got to move to “Red” for a few days, so everybody has to be ready for that possibility.”

Gaborik says the community has asked that school for younger kids be as normal as possible.

“Our primary goal for elementary school is to have kids in school five days a week.”

There will be a shorter school day and kids will be broken into smaller groups that are more spread out in elementary schools.

And for secondary students it will be more different, with teens going to school in different groups on different days, with shorter but more intense classes and more learning done at home.

“Just the number of students we have in buildings, what we’re looking at is two to three days per week, in our secondary schools, both middle and high school. So that will mean both in-building and distance learning.”

With this model, kids will take fewer classes each quarter, but courses will cover a whole semester’s worth of content in half the time. High school graduation standards will be upheld.

Families are encouraged to look at the sample schedules posted online.

Gaborik says some kids will want schooling but won’t return in-building in the fall.

“The Remote Learning model is something we want to be sure we offer as well, because we know that we have families who just will not be comfortable sending their students to school yet.”

The district’s Nutrition Services department hopes to provide meals for all students, even for those who are not in school buildings. Busing is being worked out as well, but the district wants to know how many kids will be coming. So a survey is going out this week, asking families their needs and preferences for the suggested models and schedules.

More than 1,000 people logged into the online live broadcast, which is now posted on the district website.

The district’s plan continues to evolve as new COVID-19 science emerges. A new calendar should be finalized by the end of July, and Gaborik plans another public review on August 4th.

A core group of 30 people called the design council has been meeting regularly to shape the design. Families are invited to log in every Monday to listen to planning meetings.

Web: the slides for Dr. Gabokik’s July 1 presentation: