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Anchorage School District adjusts COVID-19 reporting in response to parent concerns

Published: Sep. 3, 2021 at 8:02 PM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 4, 2021 at 12:35 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Just over two weeks into the 2021 school year, the Anchorage School District has changed the way it shares COVID-19 information with the public and families. Starting Friday morning, the district updated its data to show the number of cases in each school, rather than just the number of classrooms closed due to the virus’ impacts.

Superintendent Deena Bishop said parents began asking for that school-level information as soon as the school year began. With the delta variant of COVID-19 increasing case counts dramatically in July, the district had to make a switch in operations between mask-optional summer school, which saw a handful of COVID-19 cases, and a full in-person, fully-masked school year.

“The delta variant, which, as they say, is driving this, it’s really changed the game a bit,” Bishop told Alaska’s News Source on Friday.

The district started its original reporting display early on in the pandemic, before the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and other districts had started reporting, and as the district was in virtual mode for more than half of the last school year, the demand for school-specific data hadn’t necessitated a change.

The district also reports the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the entire district since school started, and the number of active cases.

“The more knowledge we have, the healthier we’re going to be moving into this year,” Bishop said. “It became apparent that we needed to do that.”

The superintendent said she wished the data portal could have been updated earlier in the school year, but the timing of the surge in cases intersected with the start of the school year.

“Our IT folks were focused on getting school started, getting computers in the kids’ hands and the like,” she said. “So it was just the prioritization.”

District parents and teachers were pleased to see the added information.

Danyelle Kimp, president and co-founder of the Alaska Coalition of BIPOC Educators, said he appreciates the move to more information. As an ASD parent and elementary teacher, he says it gives the community a better picture of the true situation in schools.

“Telling true numbers — I approve of ASD’s move from just showing the risk levels to actually showing true numbers, because we’re not giving away anyone’s personal information,” Kimp said, echoing concerns of health and educational privacy. “We’re not doing that. What it is doing is giving our parents and communities a clearer view of what’s going on.”

Paul Adelman, a parent of a student in the district, said he’d prefer knowing more about vaccination in the district.

“While I appreciate everything ASD is doing in terms of their COVID dashboard and keeping kids informed, what I really want to know as a parent is whether my kid’s teacher is vaccinated, and that’s information the school wont give you because it’s considered private,” he said.

Anchorage Education Association President Corey Aist said more information leads to better choices.

“The more information parents have, the more information staff have, the more information the community have, the better choices we can make as a community as a whole to help contain COVID,” he said.

Bishop said as the pandemic has evolved, so has the way individuals and agencies react to it.

“The knowledge keeps changing, and I’m glad it is,” Bishop said. “We are an evolved species as human beings, and so science matters; knowledge matters to us. And once you know better, you should be doing better, and that’s really our goal.”

Several other school districts in Alaska are reporting their COVID-19 cases among students and staff to varying degrees. You can find the COVID-19 data for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District and the Juneau School District on their respective websites.

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

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