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Anchorage School District will make masks optional when students return from winter break

Published: Dec. 16, 2021 at 4:05 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop said students and staff will no longer be required to wear masks when they return from the holiday break on Jan. 3.

Transmission rates in the district are still considered high, in the red zone, but Bishop said the numbers have been falling. Noting the city’s emergency mask mandate had been lifted, she said it’s time the district followed suit and let people decide for themselves.

“Given the data and our experience, and what we do in schools, I’m confident that parents can make the right choices for their kids,” she said. “Our staff have the ability to make the right choices for themselves.”

In a letter sent to parents on Thursday, Bishop said the change “means parents will consider the risk levels in their family, discuss, and decide for themselves if they want their child attending school wearing a mask.”

She noted that students who ride the bus will still need to wear a mask on board, per federal mandates for public transportation.

One thing that gives Bishop confidence schools can continue to operate safely during the pandemic is the wide availability of vaccines. The district doesn’t keep statistics on how many students are vaccinated against COVID-19, but at recent clinics held at district headquarters that focused on younger children, more than 3,000 got the shot.

The district has also ramped up testing. With parental permission, students and staff can get a quick COVID-19 test at any school. The PCR test results are often available the same day.

“We will know very quickly whether a child or an adult should go to school the next day,” she said. “And what we’re finding is that the majority of our tests that we take are coming back negative.”

The district is also changing its message that if people feel even a little sick they should stay home. Bishop said the new message will be to test and come to school if you can.

“We were having kids miss school, and we want to be sure that — why are you missing school?” Bishop said. “If it’s COVID, we understand, we have protocols for that. But if it’s not, let’s get back to school.”

Bishop said she expects some people will question her decision, especially with news that new variants may be more transmissible. She said the district will re-evaluate the situation every two weeks and if a mask requirement is needed, she’ll put one back in place.

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