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Anchorage mayor voices dissatisfaction with school district mask policy, urges reconsideration

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson speaks with news reporters on Wednesday, July 14, 2021.
Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson speaks with news reporters on Wednesday, July 14, 2021.(Daniella Rivera // Alaska's News Source)
Published: Aug. 9, 2021 at 4:37 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In social media posts this past Friday, Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson voiced strong opposition to the Anchorage School District’s COVID-19 mitigation plan, which includes a mask requirement for all people inside school district buildings this year.

An updated plan to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Anchorage schools for the upcoming school year went into effect Monday. It was recommended by Superintendent Deena Bishop and supported by the Anchorage School Board during an Aug. 3 meeting. Part of that overall mitigation plan includes a requirement that all students, staff and people inside school district buildings wear masks. Some exceptions will be made, according to the plan.

Masks will be optional when outdoors, according to the guidelines, and student athletes will not have to wear them when actively playing sports indoors.

The mayor made his position clear on Friday, writing that he “has been, and will continue to be” opposed to mask mandates.

“I am opposed to mandates masking our residents and our children,” he wrote. “I am opposed to mandates shutting down our businesses.”

Bronson wrote that Anchorage residents “should be free to make their own decisions about their healthcare, about their families, and about their children’s education.”

In his social media posts, Bronson “strongly” encouraged the school district to “immediately reconsider” the mask requirement in its mitigation plan.

“Masking choice has been successful in the Anchorage School District throughout the summer school session and can be successful now,” he wrote. “Moreover, student masking remains optional in various other school districts across Alaska. This should be about parental and student choice, not top down government mandates.”

School board members emphasized during their recent meeting that just because the current mitigation plan includes a mask requirement, that doesn’t mean they’ll be required all school year. Board members expect the district to reevaluate if COVID-19 case numbers fall back to the levels they were earlier this summer.

“I’m hoping by the middle of August or September we’ll be looking at a different situation and things can be relaxed, but at the moment everything is trending the wrong way,” said board member Andy Holleman during the school board meeting where the mitigation plan was discussed.

Bishop previously told Alaska’s News Source that the district will reevaluate the mask requirement if case numbers fall.

“The moment that we see that things are calming down in our community and things, you know, with the viral spread are better, then we look to change as well,” she said.

Bishop also previously explained that, beyond a recent sharp rise in COVID-19 cases, the inclusion of a mask requirement in the mitigation plan was intended to keep students in school when positive COVID-19 cases are identified. According to new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, students who are identified as close contacts of another person with COVID-19 do not have to leave school to quarantine if they are properly masked.

Therefore, Bishop explained, if a student is diagnosed with COVID-19, only that student has to go home to quarantine. Other students in their class who are identified as close contacts can stay in school, as long as they were properly masked.

In a statement on Monday, Bishop responded to Bronson’s comments about the mask requirement.

“Having schools open and students learning and engaging with peers is of the highest priority to me,” she said in the statement. “According to CDC guidelines, properly masked students will not be required to quarantine if deemed a close contact. My goal is to provide a high quality education to students and in order to do this, the schools need to keep their doors open. Masking helps us accomplish this goal.”

School Board President Margo Bellamy also addressed the mayor’s comments, saying in a statement that she would have “valued the opportunity to answer his questions” before he made his social media posts.

“The Board is confident that all components of the School Start Plan, working in unison, will safely get all students and staff in school, and keep them in school,” Bellamy wrote. “In the end, we agree that our students must be in school. We disagree with how to do it safely and responsibly.”

Classes for most grades in the Anchorage School District are slated to begin Aug. 17.

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