ASD continues in-person learning, could close school if staffing levels drop

Published: Jan. 4, 2022 at 12:16 PM AKST|Updated: Jan. 4, 2022 at 4:22 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage School District may suspend classes for an undetermined amount of time this semester if staffing levels fall below manageable levels, according to a letter sent out to families Tuesday, which the district says would be made up later throughout the semester.

“The goal is to keep schools open,” Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop said on Tuesday. “If we cannot due to staffing levels — that’s what would be affected — if we can’t staff our buildings to carry out our mission, then we might need to take a break and then get through that isolation or quarantine time if too many staff are out, and then come back.”

In the letter, Bishop wrote that the priority is to keep staff and students healthy and safe with in-person learning as COVID-19 case counts begin to see another spike, particularly with the omicron variant becoming the dominant strain in the U.S. Virtual learning would only happen as a “last resort,” Bishop wrote in the letter.

“Similar to the one-week closure following the 2018 earthquake, we may need to take some time off school to build our staffing if employee absences are too great to carry out our mission,” the letter states.

Bishop added that any lost time would be made up with “quality instructional days” throughout the spring semester, with adjustments to the school calendar. That means possibly filling in non-instructional days with classes.

Bishop said she probably won’t recommend virtual learning due to the impacts it had on students previously. This proposed plan wouldn’t be district wide, but on a school-by-school basis.

“Rather than sending home a computer and being online for 1-2 hours a day, we would look to take instructional days or non-instructional days and turn them into instructional days, whether they were planned in-service days or perhaps spring break or extending the school year,” Bishop said. “The goal is to have high quality instruction in classrooms for our students to learn.”

Students returned to class Jan. 3 with attendance down 5% compared to the same time one year prior, according to the letter. Compared to the same time in pre-pandemic semesters, Bishop said attendance is down 8%.

“The attendance was about 5% below what it was in December, for the first Monday of December, so that wasn’t too bad,” said Bishop. “We were, just didn’t know what to expect at first we have staff that are stuck, we have additional COVID cases, and again we have employees that live in the Mat-Su Valley that were hunkering down or sheltering in place rather.”

Bishop also said that a decision on the school district’s mask mandate — which was extended to Jan. 15 — will be made by Jan. 14.

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

Clarification: The headline of this article has been updated to clarify that the Anchorage School District is continuing with in-person education for the time being.

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