Image via KPBSD

Image via KPBSD

Academic quarter ends with hope for in-person learning next year

Friday marked the end of the KPBSD academic quarter

Friday marked the end of a Kenai Peninsula Borough School District academic quarter that saw almost all district schools operate 100% remotely due to high rates of COVID-19 transmission throughout the peninsula over the last few months.

At their Dec. 7 meeting, which lasted for more than seven hours, the KPBSD Board of Education responded to community concerns about remote learning by changing how schools operate while at “high-risk” level.

Instead of having learning be 100% remote during high-risk level, pre-K through sixth grade students will be allowed to attend classes in person five days a week. Additionally, students in grades seven through 12 will be allowed to attend in-person classes on an A/B schedule.

According to the district, schools will let students in grades seven through 12 know their schedule. The changes to high-risk operations will become effective no later than Jan. 19. During 100% remote learning, pre-K, kindergarten and special education/intensive needs students have been allowed to attend classes in person. From Nov. 14 to Dec. 2, students in those groups also attended classes 100% remotely.

In the weeks following that meeting, some parents have voiced their dissatisfaction with the revisions. Members of a Facebook group called “Done with DISTANCE, We need your ASSISTANCE!” want students in every grade level to resume on-site learning, five days a week, immediately.

Friday saw a second protest by members of the group at the intersection of the Sterling and Kenai Spur highways in Soldotna. The first protest was on Tuesday. Some in the group have said that if KPBSD has not announced a date on which this could happen, they will stop participating in remote learning and Zoom classes beginning on Jan. 4. As of Friday, a Change.org petition created by James and Rhonda Baisden had received more than 1,000 signatures.

According to a district release on Friday, a decision will be made on Jan. 5 by midday about whether or not on-site learning will resume on Jan. 11. The changes to the district’s Smart Start plan allow students to resume on-site learning, even when a region is at “high risk,” no later than Jan. 19. Additionally, if a region loses enough cases from its 14-day case count, it is possible for some schools to return to medium or low risk prior to Jan. 19.

There is no school on Monday, Jan. 18 due to a school holiday. There will be no early release for schools on Wednesday, Jan. 20.

“With the dawning of a new year, growing daylight, and a vaccine to help control the spread of the COVID-19 virus, we are planning for a return to more normalcy for our schools in 2021,” KPBSD Superintendent John O’Brien said in the release. “We are excited for the return of our students to in person onsite learning no later than mid-January.”

In an interview with Jesse Bjorkman on KSRM’s “The Birds Eye View” on Wednesday, O’Brien said that KPBSD administrators have been advised to prepare their staff for the possibility of coming back earlier than Jan. 19 if the COVID-19 metrics the district analyzes continue to improve.

“Really it’s going to be based on those numbers and the medical data and what we’re hearing from the hospitals, not people picketing on the side of the road or putting political pressure on me as superintendent,” O’Brien said. “I’ve never made decisions by licking my thumb and sticking it in the air and seeing what direction the wind blows.”

In determining whether to reopen a school to on-site learning, the district and their Medical Advisory Team, which includes a mental health professional, analyze 14-day positive case counts, analyze the seven-day positivity trend, consult with medical providers and public health and review their school decision matrix.

During 100% remote learning, Get-It and Go meals are free for all students and can be picked up daily at school.

Operational risk levels, case incidence rates and case numbers by community are updated daily on the district’s risk levels dashboard at covid19.kpbsd.org/dashboard.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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