Sanitization equipment is seen inside of a classroom at Kenai Middle School on Friday, Jan. 8 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Sanitization equipment is seen inside of a classroom at Kenai Middle School on Friday, Jan. 8 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

As in-person learning resumes, parents ask for more changes

Many called for allowing students in all grades to resume in-person learning five days a week or for eliminating mask requirements for student athletes while active.

On the same day that more students returned to in-person learning for the first time in months, several parents testified at a school board meeting that they wanted more changes to be made.

Many parents who testified Monday called for allowing students in all grades to resume in-person learning five days a week or for eliminating mask requirements for student athletes while active.

“I also just want to reemphasize that kids in seventh through 12th grades need to be in school full time,” said Tamara Miller. “Every single day that they’re not, you guys are doing an injustice for them.”

Rhonda Baisden, who has been an active proponent of returning all students to school five days a week, was one of many who spoke against having students wear masks while playing sports.

“I think it is going to cause our students who are exerting themselves up and down a basketball court or on the hockey ice or any other inside arena — it’s going to be difficult for them to not overheat and have an exertion with [their] mouth covered,” Baisden said. “It’s not healthy.”

Jan. 11 saw the implementation of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s revised “high risk” operations, which were approved by the Board of Education last month. Among other things, the revisions allow students to attend classes in person even if their school is considered to be at high risk. Pre-K through sixth grade students are allowed to attend in-person classes five days a week, while students in grades seven through 12 are attending in-person classes on an A/B schedule.

The changes were implemented after the district fielded hours of criticism of extended remote learning during their Dec. 7 meeting. Some parents still felt that those changes did not go far enough. In a Facebook group called “Done with DISTANCE, We need your ASSISTANCE!” parents organized multiple protests and threatened a strike if further changes were not made, including allowing students in all grade levels to attend in-person classes five days a week.

In the group on Tuesday, a user named Erin Magee Martin shared in a now-deleted post an email response that she said she received from KPBSD board member Dr. Greg Madden, in which he says that he and other board members have been working to remove rules such as mask mandates and part-time schooling.

Madden proposed an amendment to the “high risk” revisions that would have allowed students in every grade level to resume in-person learning five days a week during high-risk operations during the board’s Dec. 7 meeting. Madden also suggested an amendment that would have required school closures to be pre-approved by the school board. Both amendments failed.

“The board still might approve any closures he wants, but they are directly accountable to their constituents. And I was joined by other board members, but we were out voted by the board as a whole,” Madden wrote, according to the post. “Repeatedly a few of us have tried to remove the mask mandates, which were implemented unilaterally by the superintendent, but the board votes us down and backs the superintendent.”

Madden could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

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

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