Some ASD parents hesitant to send children back to classrooms

As students across Anchorage prepare to go back to school, some parents remain skeptical
As ASD plans a student return for January 19, some parents are keeping their kids at home
As ASD plans a student return for January 19, some parents are keeping their kids at home(Scott Gross)
Published: Jan. 6, 2021 at 5:11 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As the Anchorage School District surges toward the return of students, teachers and staff to in-person learning on Jan. 19, there are some parents who feel ASD remains vague on what the mitigation plans are. Because of the uncertainly, many parents like Jamie Scearcy, a mother of three students, is choosing to continue to homeschool her children.

“I felt at the beginning of the year there was a very straightforward list of guidelines,” Scearcy said. “When school would happen and under what circumstances, percentages of COVID-19 cases and stuff like that. All of that seems to have gone out the window.”

Scearcy says she receives and reads the superintendent’s monthly updates but it still doesn’t answer a lot of questions she has.

“I understand it’s getting to almost a year since the kids have been in school,” Scearcy said. “Maybe kids wouldn’t be going to school if they stuck to those original guidelines.”

ASD Superintendent Deena Bishop voiced earlier that the plans had indeed changed due to science and recommendations from local and state health officials. Bishop maintains that the school district is ready and prepared for a return. Scearcy still questions the process.

“I feel like I haven’t heard a lot of straightforward information coming out,” Scearcy said. “Like, what will classrooms look like. What happens if there is a COVID-19 positive student or teacher. Does the whole school shut down, only kids in that classroom get sent home or quarantined?”

The questions are hard to answer because ASD isn’t able to provide one solid answer. Instead, each individual school will have its own mitigation plans. It’s up to the parents to contact the school or wait to be notified by their school’s superintendent. Something many parents don’t have time to be searching for.

There are also questions about when school starts and ends. Elementary students will start with five and a half hour days from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Alternative schools may have different start times. It’s a lot of confusion for many parents.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen so I do feel starting with small groups is a good idea,” Scearcy said. “I understand dipping your toe in the water to see how it goes.”

For those parents who are ready to give it a go, they’re being asked to help their children navigate the new normal.

“Look, we’re going to have preschoolers and kindergartners who’ve never been to school before,” ASD Senior Director of Elementary Education Dan Barker said. “Last year’s first grades missed the final part of their year and haven’t been back for 10 months. It’s going to be an adjustment.”

Barker asks that families practice at home by wearing masks, social distancing and practicing good hygiene like washing hands. He says to explain to the young students why it’s important and also make it fun for them.

“One of the things we’ve learned as adults trying to navigate this is that it takes some muscle memory, some practice and some experience,” Barker said. “At home we really want parents working with kiddos and practicing wearing masks and building up that stamina to being masked for a day. It takes a little time, takes reminders, and practice as people become more comfortable with it.”

Barker says students will stay masked during the day including during recess and lunch. Scearcy, who has children in first, third and fifth grade, feels that will virtually be impossible.

For now, Scearcy will take the wait-and-see approach. The school district feels it’s ready and students, staff and the community will soon find out.

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