Wednesday this week, all schools in Alaska apart from one, are open. Almost 6 000 school staff and over 41 000 students have been practicing distant learning for the past 10 months.
The Back to school plan prioritizes elementary school students returning first because of their challenges with online remote instruction. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, March 15, middle and high school students will return to in-person school.
Anchorage School District states that they will monitor COVID-19 transmission, mitigation strategies, and staffing levels to determine when grades 3-6 can safely return.
"They say they’ve thought of everything — from the time students arrive on school grounds to when they go home. Or at least they’ve tried to", says Assistant Principal Mara Rosenthal lliwaw Elementary School in East Anchorage, to Alaska Public Media.
Rather than having everyone arrive through the school’s main doors, students will have designated entrances where they’ll gather at the start of each day. That’s to help prevent kids from different classrooms from interacting with each other.
Rosenthal is expecting about 60% of her school’s Pre-K through second graders to return to face-to-face learning. Class sizes will range from about 10-14 students.
Each student’s desk will have plastic barriers and they’ll sit two to a table instead of the usual six. Every student will have their own supplies at their desk instead of sharing a box of crayons or markers with the entire class.
If the recommended 6 feet of separation between desks is not possible, other mitigation strategies like scheduling time in the common areas are part of the plan to help keep students safe.
Rosenthal says there isn’t a broad COVID testing strategy in place. There won’t be temperature checks of students, although staff members will do a health screening each day.
“Overall, the district protocol is to just ask families to really be diligent about looking for symptoms, and then really keeping students home so that it doesn’t spread farther.”
After months of planning and three separate return to school attempts, Rosenthal is excited and anxious but ready to start welcoming students into the building.