Juneau teachers union wants masks mandated as schools set for some in-person classes

Juneau School District. (07/14/20)
Juneau School District. (07/14/20)(KTUU)
Published: Jul. 14, 2020 at 6:36 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - School administrators in Juneau are planning some in-person classes starting Aug. 24. A majority of Juneau teachers union members want masks mandated for students and staff while attending school.

Following broad state school reopening guidelines, the Juneau School District is set to see elementary school students attend four half-days a week. Secondary school students are set to be divided in two with half the cohort attending two full days per week.

Dr. Bridget Weiss, the Juneau School District superintendent, says getting elementary-aged students back in class is a priority after a five-month gap. “If we can keep Juneau healthy, we start with some face-to-face time. That’s night-and-day different with what we were able to do in the spring,” she said.

The teaching model used could change if COVID-19 cases fall or rise in Juneau. Weiss said there is an emphasis on trying to offer predictability for parents and students.

Across Alaska, school administrators are grappling with the same questions of how to ensure safety while also making sure students don’t fall behind.

“Every district will be unique,” said Dr. Lisa Skiles Parady, the executive director of the Alaska Council of School Administrators. She explained that a majority of school districts have not published their school reopening plans but are working to have them ready soon.

The Juneau teachers union is skeptical of holding in-person classes until COVID cases fall. “What we’re currently hearing is that there is a lot of fear and worry about entering back into the school buildings,” said Kelly Stewart, the president of the Juneau Education Association.

The JEA gave a survey to its 330 members about returning to school during the pandemic. Stewart said an overwhelming majority want to see masks mandated for students and staff.

The Juneau Assembly is currently debating whether to implement a mask mandate across the city and borough. The school district could also implement a mask mandate and is set to make a final decision on masks before the start of the school year.

Weiss is aware of safety concerns and says administrators are listening to staff who she calls “frontline responders.” “And we recognize that we’re asking our staff to come back indoors with students. And that’s a big ask,” Weiss said.

Despite the concerns over safety, Stewart said the union and the school superintendent have a strong working relationship. “I truly believe that between her partnership with us we will be able to come to a resolution that makes both parties happy,” Stewart said.

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