Back to in-person school: ASD Superintendent Deena Bishop on the challenges ahead

Published: Jan. 19, 2021 at 9:53 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A return to in-person classes for some Anchorage School District students was supposed to begin Tuesday. The weather and the road conditions did not cooperate with that plan but a single day’s delay seems small in the current context of things. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic students haven’t attended in-person classes here in the district since before spring break last March. Wednesday students in pre-K through second grade will return to classes, they will return to a semblance of normalcy, but after all this time there may also be a bit of anxiety.

“Kids are going to be excited and just like any beginning of a new year that excitement might come with some trepidation as well as just some nervousness,” says ASD Superintendent Deena Bishop.

Assuming conditions hold and school is able to resume Wednesday Bishop tells me they expect about 44% of the students in pre-k through second grade to return to classrooms. They will also see special educations students through the sixth grade return and at higher grade levels there will even be a select number of students allowed into buildings based on need or situation. The eventual goal is to get everyone who wants to return to in-person learning back in classrooms by the beginning of the fourth quarter. However, achieving that goal will likely take a strict adherence to safety protocols and mitigation efforts.

“There’s lots of new routines and protocols set up, whether that’s for drop off pickup, how we’re going to eat lunch and our schools have communicated that with their families but we’re going to teach and reteach and have our students used to new routines,” says Bishop.

Keeping track of students and who they come in contact with throughout the school day will also be a key component to making this return a successful one.

“We’re keeping cohorts in schools very small and keeping an eye on them and not having a lot of mix of children because we want to know that too that if there happens to be a case, we want to identify it quickly be able to mitigate it. If we have to shut down the classroom we would rather shut down a classroom of 13 to 20 kids rather than an entire school,” says Bishop.

Another area of safety concern for parents, students, and the community at large that will come with a return to in-person learning is a return of buses and young children standing on the side of the road. Generally, when schools start back up it’s still light and bright outside, making it easier to see students. This year that’s not the case, it’s cold and dark and the average driver in Anchorage hasn’t had to look for or worry about kids waiting for or exiting off of buses.

“I really want all of our drivers to be aware of students on the bus stops. That’s always something for us especially with the extra snow we might get, you know, if you can wear reflective tape, think about those things,” says Bishop.

Currently, COVID-19 infection numbers here in Anchorage have been trending in a positive direction. The hope is to see that trend continue and for schools to be able to open up fully. For now, getting even a small percentage of students back in the classroom is a first step that feels like a giant leap for kids that have spent every lesson for the past eleven months staring into a camera on a computer screen.

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