Schools in Alaska forge ahead with in-person learning

January 5, 2022 GMT

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska’s largest school district has resumed in-person classes in Anchorage after its winter break and schools in Juneau plan to do the same as COVID-19 cases rise.

Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop, in an online message to parents Tuesday, said the priority is “keeping our schools open and safe with in-person learning. Our students belong in the classroom.”

But she said things could change, “depending on how this recent variant continues,” including the possibility of having to “take some time off school to build our staffing if employee absences are too great to carry out our mission.”

Virtual learning, she said, “would only occur as a last resort.” Anchorage public schools resumed classes Monday. A decision will be made by Jan. 14 on whether to extend an existing mask requirement, Bishop said.

Kristin Bartlett, chief of staff for the Juneau School District, said classes in the capital city resume next week. She told the Juneau Empire there were “no plans for virtual learning at this time.” The district will “continue to monitor the pandemic and adjust operations and protocols as new information becomes available and new tools for prevention are accessible,” Bartlett said by email.

The city of Juneau recently reinstated a mask mandate for indoor public places due to rising case counts. The school district has its own mitigation measures, which include mask requirements and testing of staff and student athletes, that were in place last semester and remain in place, Bartlett said.

The University of Alaska Southeast offers in-person and online classes for the spring semester and plans to proceed with in-person classes as scheduled, said Keni Lynn Campbell, a university spokesperson.

“We have been monitoring registration numbers and adjusting room assignments to allow for appropriate spacing, with class numbers limited to meet those requirements,” Campbell said by email.

Most of Alaska is considered at high alert level based on reported COVID-19 cases over a seven-day period, according to the state health department. The department this week reported that about 55 people diagnosed with COVID-19 were hospitalized. Hospitalization numbers fell below 100 in late November following an extended surge that had earlier taxed the hospital system.

The highly contagious omicron variant has spread across the U.S., pushing up COVID-19 cases. But some experts have argued the focus should instead be on COVID-19 hospital admissions, which have not been climbing as fast.