ASD lays out plan for CARES money and the coming school year

Published: Jun. 12, 2020 at 3:47 PM AKDT
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The Anchorage School District laid out plans for how it will be using allotted CARES Act funds, as well as a plan for returning to school in the fall, at a joint meeting between the Anchorage School Board and Assembly Friday.

The district received just over $12 million as a result of the CARES Act, but as the other recipients of that money are realizing, there are restrictions on how the funds can be used.

“The money we received has some strings tied to it,” said ASD Chief Financial Officer Jim Anderson. “It has to go clearly towards COVID-related costs.”

However, because the pandemic disrupted and continues to affect how ASD operates at a basic level, there’s a number of areas the funds will be allocated. One of those is in reinstating 29 of the elementary health teachers previously cut because of budget shortfalls; that will cost the district $3 million. Another portion of the money is going towards better equipping students for digital learning.

“The district has developed a plan to have a one on one,” Anderson said. “That means one device for every student grades three through twelve.”

The need to equip those students comes in part from uncertainty about what school will look like come fall.

“The state has set out their procedures and protocols, if you will, working with the Department of Health and Human Services,” said ASD Superintendent Deena Bishop.

The protocols involve three risk levels, low, medium, and high, that the district is supposed to plan for. They’re making a plan for each level, but indicated at the meeting that medium or high risk would likely be the level the state is in when school starts.

“The current definition to the state of low risk, that would say there’s no COVID response, no COVID cases within the last 14 days, is looking like a fairly low-probability thing as this summer is unfolding,” said Deputy Superintendent Mark Stock.

The medium-risk plan would mean some combination of in-person and online education, while high risk would be entirely online. And though Stock said low-risk seems unlikely at the start, the district will need to be able to switch plans based on current conditions. But those plans are still in the works.

“Our goal is by the end of July, beginning of August, at least three weeks before school starts, that our community would know how we have to begin, knowing that whatever level we’re on, that that could change,” Jennie Knutson, senior director of professional learning, said.

Knuston added that the school board is considering pushing back the start of school from August 18 to 20 to give teachers a couple of extra days to prepare and allow for the passing of the state’s primary election. That decision will be made at the next school board meeting on June 16.

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