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17 Kenai Peninsula schools will start the school year entirely online

All sports competitions for central peninsula are canceled
(KTUU)
Published: Aug. 18, 2020 at 9:18 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Rising cases of COVID-19 in the Kenai Peninsula Borough have prompted school district officials to move to remote learning for the beginning of the school year.

A spike in cases on Tuesday pushed the district into a high-risk level, triggering safety contingencies for how the district should operate. Seventeen central peninsula schools will begin school this way, but schools in Homer and Seward are still able to begin with in-person school due to lower rates of community transmission.

KPBSD Superintendent John O’Brien announced the decision Tuesday. When school starts on Aug. 24, it will be entirely online for those 17 schools.

“I am disappointed the positive case count appears to be trending with increases in high risk levels,” O’Brien said in a statement. “Every day we will evaluate risk level trends and actual counts.”

O’Brien hopes that the central peninsula area can move to a medium-risk model before Labor Day. If cases do drop enough to move out of the high-risk category, O’Brien plans to open schools back up for onsite learning on Sept. 8.

“We will continue providing district level updates every week, plus each school will communicate directly with their families,” O’Brien said.

According to the district plan, onsite learning is still available for groups who are considered vulnerable, including special education, preschool and kindergarten students. Special education students are can continue using school buses to get to school, but all other students must find different modes of transportation.

The 17 schools impacted by the high-risk model are found from Kasilof to Sterling, through Kenai, Nikiski and Soldotna. The high-risk level means all sports competitions for the area will be canceled. School pools are also closed.

The risk levels are a part of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development’s Smart Start guidance. Schools that have high community spread and transmission of the virus are considered high risk. The high-risk designation comes with school closures and online learning.

The Smart Start guidance recommends canceling field trips, sporting events and extracurricular activities while at a high-risk level.

On Tuesday, the Department of Health and Social Services reported 15 new resident cases in the Kenai Peninsula Borough. Almost all of those cases were in the central peninsula with six new resident cases in both Kenai and Soldotna.

The central peninsula schools are not the only ones starting the school year off in a high-risk model. The Anchorage School District made the decision in July to host school online after cases continued to rise within the municipality.

The Juneau School District has moved instruction online for the beginning of the school year, but if COVID-19 cases fall, the district hopes to bring students in person in small cohorts.

The KPBSD will contact families with more information about remote school start and will release details on meal services later. The district still plans to provide what it calls “get it and go meals” starting Aug. 24.

These 17 schools are moving online:

  • Aurora Borealis Charter School
  • Kaleidoscope Charter School
  • K-Beach Elementary School
  • Kenai Alternative School
  • Kenai Central High School
  • Kenai Middle School
  • Mountain View Elementary School
  • Nikiski Middle-High School
  • Nikiski North Star Elementary School
  • Redoubt Elementary School
  • River City Academy
  • Skyview Middle School
  • Soldotna Elementary School
  • Soldotna High School
  • Soldotna Montessori Charter School
  • Sterling Elementary School
  • Tustumena Elementary School

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