ASD releases in-person learning dates and plan

Published: Sep. 16, 2020 at 2:43 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage School District is planning on moving into in-person learning modes starting as soon as October for Pre-K through sixth-grade students, the district announced Wednesday.

ASD started the school year in online learning only mode due to the high numbers of COVID-19 cases in the municipality. Now, the district says COVID-19 isn’t the only factor to consider for when schools should resume in-person instruction.

The revised plan, released Wednesday, is a medium-risk plan that would have students in class for five and a half hours a day. ASD has not released information on how large classes will be but said, “we are in the process of balancing our class sizes to keep the class counts as low as possible.”

In-person classes as soon as October

In the revised plan, students in Pre-K through sixth grade would start in-person classes on Oct. 19 starting at 9:30 a.m., Monday through Friday.

All self-contained special education programs for Pre-K through 12th grade will resume on Oct. 19. Following the Oct. 19 start, ASD will have a three-and-a-half week gap between the revised in-person start date for middle schoolers. The district said this gap will give it time to adjust to new safety protocols. The start date could be delayed if COVID-19 conditions are not safe enough for students.

If the district moves forward with in-person middle school teaching, classes will resume on Nov. 12 or 13 for sixth and seventh grades. All other middle school students will start in-person classes on Nov. 16, including special and alternative middle and high school students.

Middle school students will also attend school five days a week for five and a half hours with an 8:45 a.m. start time for middle schools.

High school students will be the last group to step into in-person classrooms. The revised plan has high school resuming on Jan. 4, 2021 to coincide with the beginning of the third quarter. Just like elementary and middle school, high school class days will be five and a half hours long for five days a week. The revised plan states high schoolers will begin class at 8 a.m.

Teachers' union stands by online learning

Not everyone was thrilled when the district announced its plans for students to return to in-person classes.

“The association, the teachers, the members have mixed feelings. Everyone wants to be back in the classroom with their students. The question is can it be done safely,” said Anchorage Education Association President Corey Aist. “What the plan looks like, what it actually feels like and sounds like in our buildings -- those are the details that everybody really wants to know. Sure the date’s important, but how are we going to accommodate classroom size, how are we going to accommodate lunchroom schedules, what are we going to do to really mitigate the risk and spread of COVID-19.”

While the district stated that more information on specifics of the plan are still to come, Aist said that everyone who works inside of the schools should be able to give input into how the buildings should reopen, but at the moment the association still believes online learning is the best option.

“The AEA board took a position that during this time of COVID-19 and the spread, that their position was for online learning and that position has not changed. The spread has really not diminished. There are different impacts around the city, but we are going into a time where everybody’s going to be coming indoors, and all the projections are for the spread to increase and not decrease,” Aist said. “We all want it to decrease, but if it doesn’t, what will the impact be to our students and to our staff who are having lots of interactions for long periods of time?”

Aist says that even though there may be disagreements, the AEA is committed to working with ASD to ensure both students and school employees have a safe environment to work and learn.

Monitoring community cases

In a release, ASD said the revised plan was made to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics, guidelines which “support the return of students to in-school education if the health and mitigation conditions permit,” ASD stated in the release.

While the district has been using the rolling case averages as a metric to guide opening conversations, the district says it is not the only factor it is considering. The district will be monitoring the nature of community transmission, district mitigation abilities, sanitization procedures and response plans.

The district said it doesn’t believe it will be able to eliminate the spread of COVID-19 in classes but believes it is possible to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“ASD will be a symptom-free district and we know that the influenza might affect this, maybe just an allergy, but if we identify symptoms we have protocols in place to have children checked out of you will in order to come back to school,” ASD Superintendent Deena Bishop said.

ASD had initially considered entering a hybrid model of online and in-person learning but has forgone that plan due to concerns that the hybrid model would make school logistics more difficult for families and staff members.

Several other schools in Alaska have opened or started with some form of in-person instruction including the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District and several school districts in Southeast Alaska.

Editor’s Note: This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates.

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