For ASD parents and staff, mixed emotions over move to online start

Classes will begin on August 20 in a fully online format
Published: Jul. 25, 2020 at 3:13 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Increasing numbers of coronavirus cases in the Anchorage area triggered a final decision about how school will start for Anchorage School District students, with officials announcing Friday that classes will commence in a fully online format.

For some parents and staff, the decision is entirely a relief; others are frustrated with the lack of an in-person option; but for most, the feelings are mixed.

“We always put safety of kids and educators first,” said Morgan Herz, an ASD Speech Language Pathologist, “and I think it’s a good decision in that regard. But I definitely do worry about the kids I work with being at home, because my kids have special needs.”

ASD Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop had said earlier this week that it was “highly likely” that school would move from the previously-announced, partially in-person instruction setup to an all-online schedule. In an email to parents Friday morning, she made the change final, writing, “While we have almost a month before school resumes on August 20, I felt it was important to make a decision now to provide the maximum amount of time for families, teachers, and staff to plan and make the many necessary arrangements for starting school. ASD will continue to monitor the community health risk on a daily basis and will make another risk-level determination the week prior to Labor Day.”

Schools will also be reaching out to coordinate either in-person or electronic meetings for each student and family, Bishop said.

“The purpose of the meeting is to review the many aspects of the new school year,” she wrote, “focusing on the eLearning environment and supports as well as providing time for parents and students to meet teachers, ask questions, share needs, and begin building relationships within their school.”

The district will also continue to monitor community case levels and spread daily to see if a return to a lower-risk setup is possible, and then make a determination on setup every two weeks. It has long cited a risk decision matrix to figure out the start of the school year, and will continue to use it for the foreseeable future to determine if and when a return to classrooms is possible. For now, the situation remains “high-risk,” with a current 14-day average of 30 new coronavirus cases per day.

“It should really be up to the parents and the teachers,” said Stacy Jones, a parent of three ASD students. Two of her kids didn’t do well with online learning, she said. “Those parents that want their kids to go to school, and those teachers that want to go back to school? I think that that ought to be an option that we have.

“I think there’s a lot of stress all the way around, honestly,” she added.

For now, everyone is figuring out what they need to do to make the school year a success.

“I understand both sides,” Herz said. “I totally feel for families that are going to have to juggle it all.

“It’s a lot,” she continued, “and I just want to know that we’re able to give [students] the best services possible.”

School will start for most ASD students on August 20. A hotline is also available for families needing technical support or family wellness resources. That number is (907) 742-HELP (4357). You can also get more information on the ASD website.

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