Mat-Su sees first school close to in-person learning due to COVID-19

1 remote Kenai Peninsula school also operating under remote learning
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District.
The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District.(KTUU Staff | KTUU)
Published: Aug. 28, 2021 at 3:35 PM AKDT|Updated: Aug. 28, 2021 at 4:46 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Butte Elementary School in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District has closed to in-person learning and will be 100% remote starting Monday in response to an outbreak of COVID-19 cases there.

The school has identified 23 new cases of COVID-19 over the last seven days, according to the school district’s website, and is now in the high-risk category. According to both the district website and a Facebook post from Butte Elementary on Friday night, the school will transition to remote learning starting Monday. The remote learning status will last at least for the next week, according to the Facebook post.

Teachers will make contact with the students on Monday, according to the post by the school.

“The office will be open and staff will be in the building 8-4:30 next week,” the post reads. “We will be able to answer questions and coordinate work to students, as well as provide meal service from 10:30-12:30.”

District Public Information Officer Jillian Morrissey said via email that the district’s Health Advisory Team monitors daily case counts and will make a determination about Butte Elementary’s learning status by Sept. 6.

Butte Elementary is the first Mat-Su school to close to in-person education due to COVID-19 this school year. The district’s website shows that six other schools in the Mat-Su are currently in the medium risk category, and that masks are now required at those schools, with the exception of Glacier View School where masks are required for staff and most students but recommended for students in kindergarten through second grade.

The website shows there were nine new COVID-19 cases at Palmer High School over the last week, 13 new cases at Mat-Su Career and Tech and 21 new cases in the last week at Houston Jr/Sr High School. In total, the district has recorded 143 COVID-19 cases over the last seven days.

Comparatively, no schools have yet closed to in-person learning in the Anchorage School District, though Birchwood ABC Elementary and Eagle Academy Charter each transitioned one classroom to online learning due to COVID-19 cases. There have been a total of 411 COVID-19 cases confirmed in the district since the beginning of August, its website shows, and 263 of them are active.

The Anchorage School District requires masking while indoors or all staff, students and visitors.

Down on the Kenai Peninsula, one remote school is also operating at 100% remote status, according to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Its website shows that Nanwalek School across Kachemak Bay from Homer has been transitioned to remote only learning since Aug. 25, due to the fact that the community is in “hunker down” status. The school is set to reopen to in-person learning on Sept. 1.

In a letter to the community dated Aug. 26 and posted to a community Facebook page, Nanwalek IRA Council First Chief John Kvasnikoff called for residents to “hunker down” and practice strict voluntary quarantine for the time being after additional cases were identified there.

All schools in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District are open to in-person education and under normal operating procedures, the district website shows. In that district, a total of 76 student COVID-19 cases have been identified since Aug. 11 and 18 staff cases have been identified since Aug. 12.

Of those, 62 new cases have been identified in the Fairbanks school district within the last seven days.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

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