Assembly to meet with ASD over reopening plans, but may lack ability to change the decision

The Anchorage Assembly meets in the Assembly chambers at the Loussac Library on Aug. 27, 2020.
The Anchorage Assembly meets in the Assembly chambers at the Loussac Library on Aug. 27, 2020.(KTUU)
Published: Nov. 2, 2020 at 10:13 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage School District has reaffirmed its plans to bring children in grades Pre-K-2 back to school on Nov. 16, but the Anchorage Assembly has asked for a meeting with the district and school board to discuss those plans.

Assembly member Meg Zaletel, co-chair of the Health Policy Committee, said the request came around because of questions raised by members and an influx of emails they’ve received about the plans.

“The concerns are wide and varied, very detailed, and also a little confused, frankly,” she said.

The confusion, she said, comes from how the plan compares to the Anchorage Health Department’s recent public health advisory, encouraging people to stay home as much as possible.

“We’re kind of working on two parallel paths,” she said. “We have the school district path and the municipal path, both have a substantial opportunity to impact one another depending on where they go.”

Zaletel said she sees this upcoming meeting as a chance to discuss those impacts and answer questions any assembly members may have.

“What I’m most interested in is bringing to light any municipal impacts that could be very real for the municipality as to its resources to deal with COVID-19, and that’s to influence our administration and our mayor,” she said.

It would need to be the mayor that gets influenced for the city to step in, according to Anchorage’s Municipal Attorney Kate Vogel.

“The assembly does not have a direct role in deciding whether schools should be open or closed,” Vogel said.

She added that normally the mayor doesn’t either, but because of Anchorage’s emergency declaration, an order from the mayor can close schools down.

“We saw during the hunker down phase that for example, the emergency order issued by Mayor Berkowitz, which did require the shutdown of schools, both public and private,” Vogel said.

But that’s no guarantee Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson will issue an order, and if she does, that would open up an avenue for the assembly to get involved.

“If that order was issued, then the Anchorage Assembly possesses the power to end an emergency order,” Vogel said.

She added that if neither choose to get involved, the decision to move forward stays with the school board and the superintendent.

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