Anchorage School District to make masking optional in late February
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop announced Friday that the school district will transition away from requiring masking and make it optional for students and staff later this month.
In a letter sent out to families Friday afternoon, Bishop said the district-wide change will take place on Feb. 28.
“As a career educator, I understand how critical it is to focus the District’s energy on student learning,” Bishop wrote in the letter. “I believe that continued mandatory mask wearing is counter-productive and negatively impacts our students’ education, intellectual development, and emotional well-being.”
Bishop also cited the steady decline in COVID-19 cases both statewide and in the Municipality of Anchorage in her decision. As of Wednesday, new cases in Alaska had dropped by 47% over the last week compared to the week of Feb. 4-Feb. 10.
“Overall knowledge of COVID-19 and the availability of effective vaccines and treatments largely enable a return to normalcy in the classroom,” Bishop wrote.
The school district will maintain other forms of COVID-19 mitigation, according to Bishop’s announcement, including offering testing through the end of the school year.
Bishop had previously sought to transition the district to optional masking in Anchorage schools when students returned from their holiday break in early January. However, the Anchorage School Board reversed that decision and extended the mandatory mask requirement, voicing concern about the omicron variant, which at that time was ramping up in the Lower 48 and Alaska.
In mid-January, Bishop again extended the masking requirement, with no set expiration date at the time.
On Wednesday, the school district’s COVID-19 dashboard showed 93 confirmed, active cases of the virus within Anchorage schools — a steep decline compared to the 1,000 active COVID-19 cases in the district in mid-January when Bishop last extended the mask requirement.
“By allowing informed mask choice, ASD staff, parents, and students will be able to better focus on learning,” Bishop wrote in closing. “Children have carried an unprecedented burden during the pandemic, and it is time to refocus on their outcomes and our mission of educating all students for success in life.”
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