Change in criteria, guidelines help ASD decide on students' return to school buildings

School district was operating on COVID-19 data from July. New risk level criteria released this month allow district to change course of action
Published: Sep. 18, 2020 at 8:53 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Why is the Anchorage School District changing its mind when it comes to students going back to school? It’s a question many people are asking.

“We continue to look at case numbers,” ASD Superintendent Deena Bishop said. “We sent out our data back in July with the best information at the time from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] as well as from the Department of Health and Social Services right here in our state.”

The information has changed a lot since July. Back then, a rolling average of over 30 COVID-19 cases over a one and two week period would put the school district at a high-risk level. That is where the district found itself just before the start of school.

“Again, if cases in our community spike and in Alaska spike tremendously, this might not be an opportunity in October,” Bishop said.

Bishop said that on Sept. 1, the CDC came out with new guidance with additional metrics that made a return to school more clear. On the 15th of this month, they provided even more primary and secondary data points. The guidelines are available on ASD’s webpage.

“They are based off case counts,” Bishop said. “They are based off testing, they’re based off hospital availability and they really provide a multitude of questions to look at and questions to pose to see if you are a ready school district, if you are a ready classroom.”

Based on the new information, the school district falls under the moderate-risk category. The schools in the district must have the ability to implement five key mitigation strategies, consistent and correct use of masks, social distancing, hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, cleaning and disinfection and contact tracing.

“We procured hand sanitizer, masks, both disposable and cloth,” ASD Chief Operating Officer Tom Roth said. “We’ve got plastic face shields, humanity shields, we’ve got some plexiglass barriers.”

Roth says it’s an expensive move but it’s the right thing to do.

“We are in a good place as far as our ability to provide protective equipment, for our ability to provide sanitation supplies to staff and students,” Roth said. “That we can effectively disinfect schools as needed as appropriate and we’ve got some depth.”

The district says now is the time to start planning for a return because it will take time. It will take parents and families time to adjust their schedules, the school district to get a count of how many elementary students and teachers will choose to return and how to prepare.

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