Back To School: Mat-Su superintendent Dr. Trani on the start of the school year, Covid-19 response plans, and mask requirements

Published: Aug. 7, 2020 at 9:16 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Mat-Su Valley School District has a new superintendent this year. Dr. Randy Trani is stepping into the roll in the midst of the most complicated scholastically and logistically challenging times in recent memory.

While the Anchorage School District has opted to go completely virtual for the first quarter of the coming year due to a high Covid-19 case count in the state’s biggest city, the Mat-Su Borough School District is planning to have their students in class beginning August 19th.

It won’t be a one size fits all plan. Elementary schools will host classes five days a week, secondary school students will attend four days a week while their Friday classes will be held virtually.

“It’s very easy to cohort kids in grades K through 5. They’re with their teacher all-day. It’s very easy to keep track of them, it’s very easy to keep the social distancing standards. At the secondary level where students are switching this limits the number of interactions out in the hallway to about half. You reduce the number of days by 20%. In this model, all of our teachers are teaching at the same time and they have their prep periods on Friday. That also further reduces the number of students in their class at any one time.” Says Dr. Trani.

There will also be more room in schools for the students that choose to attend in person. According to Dr. Trani, only about 68% of the area’s students have enrolled for the traditional brick and mortar experience. The other 32% will either take advantage of the virtual learning options where they have access to teachers online or they will do a traditional home school program with either a parent or tutor as their teacher. The effect of which is that fewer students will be in the school, to begin with, and thus more space will be available to keep kids separated.

No matter the mode of education chosen Superintendent Dr. Trani is focused on how to reach the best outcome for the success of his students. “Throughout this whole thing we need to keep at the forefront academic progress for our students and it’s hard because we need to be responsive to COVID, but we are a school and our primary objective is to advance kids academically.” Says Dr. Trani.

For parents that will have their kids in classrooms and in buildings and near teachers, other students, as well as faculty one concern is what happens is there is a positive test at their child’s school? It turns out that the answer is a bit complicated. There is no single metric to rely on, instead, there are many metrics. Dr. Trani tells me a health advisory team, composed of faculty in the district as well as health professionals, will meet every day and in the case of infection what they will look at is the incidence of community spread, which area of the district the case happened in, and spread within the particular school. From there the advisory team will determine if a class, a school, or even the borough needs to be shutdown.

“A single case in a single school does not necessarily necessitate, even a short term, shutdown of that school. It could, I’ve heard people wonder if there’s a single case will the whole borough get shut down? That for sure is not the case. Like I said a single metric can not dictate everything for all schools.” Says Dr. Trani.

Another big concern the superintendent has seen a lot of discussion about is the mask mandate. Originally, they were going to be optional for students but the district, upon guidance from health professionals, opted to make them a requirement. There are however exceptions and just what is counted as an exception is still being debated.

“Let’s say you’re a student who’s deaf and hard of hearing, how do we deal with that kind of student? They need to be able to see your lips. What about eating lunch, obviously you can’t. We’re working on the details now about when will there be exceptions to the mask rule.” -Says Dr. Trani.

In the coming weeks leading up to the start of school, Dr. Trani expects to have all those details ironed out and released so that parents, students, and staff are all on the same page for day one of classes on August 19th.

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